My non-Episcopal readers will notice that this is one of only a handful of weeks in the Lectionary cycle when the Common in Revised Common Lectionary proves false. My Episcopal readers will notice that the same is true from the Common in our Common Prayer, which gets a pass this week as some congregations will choose to transfer the propers for All Saints’ Day to Sunday, while others will continue the never-ending march of ordinary time with Proper 26A. My friend, Evan Garner, has handled the question of when quite well in his blog today. I’ll wait while you read it.
Since I will be involved in services on November 1st and the transferred Sunday, my concern this week is less about when we celebrate All Saints’, and more about what lessons we might use to do so. I have long been an advocate for petitioning one’s bishop to ask permission to use the old Book of Common Prayer lectionary for the Feast of All Saints’. In both sets of lessons, you’ll get a snippet from Revelation 7. In both, you’ll hear the Beatitudes from Matthew. The difference comes in the BCP lectionary’s use of the Apocryphal text of Ecclesiasticus, which is also known as Sirach or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. It was, in its day, a popular handbook of wisdom for study in educational settings (HarperCollins Study Bible, 1530), and it appears in the RCL only a few times during the three year cycle.
I like to hold on to this old tradition because of the balance the Ecclesiasticus lesson strikes between the Feast of All Saints’ and the less often celebrated, non-Major Feast of the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2nd. The lesson opens by “singing the praises of famous men [and women],” but eventually turns its attention to those who “have perished as though they had never existed.” To my mind, this lesson navigates the various themes one must juggle on a singular All Saints’ Day celebration better than the 1 John lesson of the RCL. This came alive to me one All Saints’ Day as I preached a Sunday evening service in a congregation that was not my own, in their parish hall, the walls of which were lined with old, dead, white guys for whom various things had been named. It has returned with vigor this year as I now serve a congregation with a penchant for naming things after clergy (not that that’s a bad thing, in and of itself).
Taking time to sing the praises of famous men [and women] is important, but so too is the commemoration of Aunt Sally, Gerald, or Joe, who were faithful disciples in their day, but of whom there is no written record. On All Saints’ Day, it seems to me, it is important for us to take the time to honor both, for without them, the Church is not what it is today.