How great that All Saints Day, November 1st falls on a Sunday this year. All Saints Day is All Saints Sunday rather than the Sunday closest to November 1st . During worship we especially remember those who have died during the past year as part of our celebration of All Saints. More importantly, however, we remember that those who have died have now become a part of the communion of saints — not just a member of the church universal but the cosmic church. It is a church which is not only spread beyond the boundaries of nations, race, languages and human conditions. It is a church which exists beyond space and time across the barrier of death. It is a day for all the saints including us who are still alive.
Those who have died are no longer with us in bodily form, but they are with us. We are all part of the same communion, the same body of Christ, the cosmic church.
When I was a young child my grandmother, Hester Naomi, told me that she prayed for me every day. She was the grandmother who gave me my first Bible, the grandmother that bribed me and my cousins to take sermon notes in church by paying us a penny for every notation. On really good Sundays I would have 25 notes earning me a quarter which, in those days, was enough to buy a candy bar. She was the grandmother that attended Bible studies and told me to write notes in my Bible and underline verses. This was the grandmother whose children sometimes alluded to her imperfections, but whose young granddaughter just knew of her warm embrace and deep love. This was the grandmother that prayed for me every day.
At age eleven my family moved to a different state, and I no longer had the frequent contact with my grandmother I had once had. Through the trials of adolescence and the life-affirming adventures of college, I still remembered that my grandmother prayed for me every day. When I went off to a Lutheran seminary just a year after graduating from college, my grandmother began to worry about my faith and the direction it might be going. She wasn’t too sure about Lutherans, so she probably prayed for me more fervently at that point. She might even have died believing that somehow her prayers for me had failed because I didn’t turn out to be the good Baptist she envisioned. Still, she prayed for me every day.
When she did die, not only did I mourn her death, I mourned the loss of her prayers for me. Who would pray for me now? There were other people that loved me. Perhaps, occasionally, some of those who loved me might actually pray for me. No one, however, would pray for me every day.
Many years later, one All Saints Day, it dawned on me. What dawned upon me was that it was very unlikely that death prevented my grandmother from praying for me. In fact, since becoming part of that cosmic communion of saints, she probably now prays for me more regularly than she ever did in ways I will never know until I join her and all the saints who have gone before me in death.
Though I can’t know it, can’t explain it, and certainly can’t prove it, I believe my deceased grandmother, my deceased father and many others now deceased support me, and those of us who comprise the earthly church with a spiritual support that sustains us, strengthens us and summons us to be what they wished they might have been when they were on earth. After all, they now see clearly what is still very dim, unformed and uninformed to us. Of course, I also believe I am supported and sustained by your prayers, the prayers of Christian brothers and sisters still alive and participating in our struggles to be the church. I believe my prayers provide crucial support to others. Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses then, may we get on with the race and give thanks! (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In the sustenance of years of prayer,