In an email to his clergy, the Bishop of my diocese gave us permission to use the Propers for All Saints’ Day from the old Book of Common Prayer Lectionary. As I read that note, almost an aside at the end of a longer letter, my heart rejoiced. “He gets it!” I thought, “There is still the heart and soul of a parish priest behind that purple shirt.” As you might have guessed by now, I am of the opinion that the BCP lectionary is far superior to the RCL on the Feast of All Saints’. IT isn’t because of the Gospel lesson, on which I am so fond of preaching: both give us a version of the Beatitudes, more on that tomorrow.
Instead, it is the passage from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-10, 13-14, that I find so very appealing. The pericope begins with a lack of gender neutral language that is uncommon in the NRSV, but if one looks past the use of men when it could just as easily be “men and women,” the heart of the Feast of All Saints comes into focus. While there is a tradition in Roman Catholicism to celebrate the Feast as a triduum: All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls, each with its own particular nuanced theological focus, in naming All Saints’ Day a Principal Feast and declaring that it should be celebrated twice, once on November 1st and again on the first Sunday following the same, the Book of Common Prayer seems to lift up this Feast as catch all for all three.
The lesson from Ecclesiasticus reminds us of the proper understanding of All Saints’ Day as a day to remember all the saints. We remember not only those “famous men” like Augustine, Francis, and Thomas Cranmer and “famous women” like Perpetua, Clare, and Elizabeth I, but also those “who have perished as though they had never existed.” Saints like Michael, Jim, and Anna whom we buried here at Saint Paul’s this year. None of them was perfect, each “feebly struggled” as the old hymn says, but all of them set their faith on the sure and certain hope of the resurrection through Jesus Christ.
For those of us who are left behind, saints in the church militant waiting for the day of triumph, the call of All Saints’ Day is to live lives worthy of the title saint. To press forward in witness of Christ’s love, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and recovery of sight to the blind. Some of us may be remembered as “famous men and women,” but most will leave no great lasting memory. Still, the calling is the same: to love God, love neighbor, and change the world.