Worshiping with the Saints
All Saints Day
On November 4, all of Hope Church gathered together in one worship service. I hope that you were encouraged by seeing new and different faces in the sanctuary, sharing communion as a whole body of believers, and having fellowship over a delicious brunch. Having one service on November 4 was not a random decision. Churches across the world celebrate All Saints Day on the first Sunday of November, so we chose November 4 to worship all together as the saints of Hope Church.
Sainthood is not an abstract concept. Yes, many denominations, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Orthodox, celebrate certain individuals who lived especially noteworthy lives, but such a list does not exclude people like you or me from also being called saints. Indeed, Paul repeatedly addresses his letters to the saints of the town to which he is writing. “Saint” just means “holy one.” It is a biblical identity to which all Christians belong.
True Identity: Saint or Sinner?
But do you think of yourself primarily as a saint? Or a sinner? You may notice that we pray a prayer of confession every Sunday. Does that mean that we are sinners? We certainly sin and struggle against sin daily, but if we find our identity primarily as sinners, we have only heard half of the story. The great hope of Christians is not that Jesus died for our sins, but that he died for our sins and rose to give us life. The identity of a saint is an identity of a child of God who has been given full, unending life at the empty tomb!
Jesus’ resurrection makes us saints and gives us hope even as we grieve those who have died. In our service on November 4, we took time to remember those from Hope Church who had died over the past year. This is a culture-defying act of worship. Our culture has sanitized death, doing as much as possible to ignore, deny, or minimize the reality of death. To acknowledge death is bold. To do so during worship is almost crazy.
Worship that Prepares Us for Death
We acknowledge death because we are saints who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and raised to new life when we were baptized. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. The psalms frequently remember the brevity of life, not shying away from the reality of death (e.g., Ps. 90:10; 103:14–16; 39:4; 89:47). In the same way, our worship is honest about death. In Worship Seeking Understanding, John Witvliet says, “Public worship—gathering in Jesus’ name for prayer, proclamation, and sacramental celebration—shapes us into the kind of people who (together) can face death well. Whether a church is quiet or noisy, formal or informal, old or young, it is important that its worship teaches the skills to face death Christianly.”
We do not ignore the reality of death, but with hopeful honesty we gather together because we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, helping us along (Heb. 12:1). When we show the names of our dearly departed during the worship service, we remind each other that none of us grieves alone, and collectively we hold fast to the hope we have.
I hope that whenever you gather with fellow Christians in worship, you can catch a glimpse of the saints who surround you. We may not be remarkable or noteworthy, but we have been redeemed.
by Hilary Ritchie