Rev. Paul E. Grams
Tomorrow will be celebrated by many in the Christian church as the Sunday of All Saints. The actual date of All Saints’ Day is historically November 1. Once in history, All Saints’ Day was the “great day” of worship attendance throughout the year, and therefore, as history has taught us, on Saturday, October 10. On December 31, 1517, an almost 34-year-old Roman Catholic priest and professor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, a notice on the door of the house of worship of his local congregation – the castle church of Wittenberg, modern Germany – in which he led readers to an academic debate. His intention was to reach the widest possible audience; hence the message on the eve of All Saints’ Day. By the way, that term “All Saints’ Eve” has been widely used very recently by many in this country and the world, perhaps unwittingly by some. The word “Halloween” literally means “All Saints’ Eve”.
Luther’s intent was to provoke a debate on the issue of the sale of indulgences by the established church. He meant it wasn’t much more than that. He certainly did not mean the beginning of the chain of events that led to the formation of both the Lutheran Church and numerous Protestant ones. But isn’t that how it often goes? Many things are discovered by accident.
So since All Saints’ Day was a Tuesday this year, many congregations will celebrate it tomorrow, the first Sunday in November. Perhaps the dynamism of Christian life in connection with the commemoration of All Saints’ Day is one of constant struggle. To help us understand, we’ll turn to 19th-century hymn writer William H. How, and his well-known hymn, “For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest.” The translation used here is from the 1941 “The Lutheran Hymnal” (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo.), and the text provided here is in the public domain. One change to this version – excellent hymn that is TLH, the stanzas in it for this hymn are out of order. In this article, I will present these eight in their original and appropriate order. I also generally provide a printed copy of the stanzas in order when we sing this hymn in our congregation.
Stanza One – “To all the saints resting from their labours, Who by faith exults Thee before the world, Thy name, O Jesus, be blessed forever, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” This introductory stanza seeks to bless the name of the Lord for all those faithful who have professed their faith and trust in Him in the struggle known as life in this world.
Stanza Two – “You were their rock, their fortress, and their might; Thou, Lord, their Captain in the battle well fought; Thou, in the darkness, their one true Light. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” This is the recognition that Christ was everything to them, their true confidence in the constant struggle.
Stanza three – “O may Thy soldiers, faithful, faithful and bold, Fight like the saints of old who fought noblely And win with them the golden crown of victory. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Having recognized Christ in the lives of those who were once the saints of this world, and are now with Him in glory, we turn our recognition to our own struggles as the believers here on earth at the present time. The recognition of the aspect ‘battle’ will become even more vivid in the next stanza.
Stanza Four – “O blessed community, divine community, We fight feebly, they shine in glory; Yet all are one in You, for all are Yours. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” In faith in Christ we are one with those who have gone before us in glory, they have fought the good fight of faith and now rest from their labors, and we go on in the fight, which seems to go on as we do. see you in the next stanza.
Stanza Five – “And when the strife is fierce, the war is long, Steals on the ear the distant triumphal song, And the hearts are brave again and the arms are strong. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Encouragement in the constant struggle are the promises of Christ and the bliss experienced by the saints in His presence.
Stanza Six – “The golden evening is brightening in the west; Soon, soon, there will be peace for faithful warriors. Sweet is the rest of Paradise the blessed. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” This is given as Stanza Eight in TLH, but should be here. The earthly battle will see its end, as the “Paradise” is entered here at the end of the earthly life – hence the sunset images. Important – this does not mean that death is a friend! It never is! Even if someone was in pain, had a difficult life situation or was seriously ill. The effects of sin and death have caused that. Death is the enemy, as the Scriptures describe it (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death would try to destroy us, and that is no friend. Rather, God uses death against His own will to bring His own of faith to Himself.
Stanza Seven – “But behold, a still more glorious day is dawning; The saints rise triumphantly in a radiant row; The King of Glory passes in His way. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” This is Stanza Six in TLH. The end of earthly life, in the preceding stanza, then gives way, or will, from now on, give way to the ‘life of the world to come’, as we confess in the Nicene Creed – glorious without description.
Stanza Eight – “From the broad borders of the earth, from the farthest shore of the ocean, Through gates of pearl streams in the countless multitude, Sing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia! Hallelujah! Amen!” Stanza Seven in TLH. Praise be to God for His victory over sin and death, through Christ crucified, and that victory guaranteed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Such is the essence of our celebration of All Saints’ Day. you!
A closing, off-topic encouragement – this Tuesday is Election Day. I will not support a candidate or party in this pastoral setting, but Christians, know the problems and vote according to your faith.
Reverend Paul E. Gramit is the pastor of the Evangelical Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton.