October 31 – Reformers, All Souls, All Saints

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Reformers, Saints, and Souls

At the end of the Christian year churches have four great celebrations, Reformation Day (31 October); All Saints’ Day (1 November); All Souls’ Day (2 November); and the Feast of Christ the King (the last Sunday before Advent).

Reformation Day is of course the day when Protestants especially remember the church-changing movements of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the heart of these movements was an emphasis on justification by grace through faith, on the centrality of Christ, and on the need for a constant appeal to Holy Scripture.

By any measure, the leaders of the Reformation were grand figures. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Bucer, Browne and the Wesleys were men of immense intellect, love of the church, pastoral insight and capacity for work. It is right to remember them with thanks and appreciation.

All Saints’ Day had its origin in the fact that the deaths of many martyrs and other faithful Christians were unrecorded. But various biblical texts remind us that we live within a communion of saints—the living and the dead; the known and remembered, and the unknown—and that it is right to remember that we, the living, share in the faith because it was handed down to us by these people. And so, in Syria and Rome in the sixth and seventh centuries, churches began celebrating with special prayers and services the faithfulness of those who had not been honoured on earth. As long ago as 835 these celebrations took place on 1 November. Take a trawl through your Bible, and see how many passages you can find that prompt us to remember the saints of old, the martyrs, “the cloud of witnesses” to our faith in Christ.

All Souls’ Day (not often celebrated in Protestant Churches, though perhaps it should be) reminds us of another New Testament theme. The key here is in the writings of St. Paul: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). If you still have your Bible out, take a look through Romans and Galatians, to find evidence of the strength of this theme. The celebration of Christian saints is indeed a good thing! But because Paul’s “all” means simply “all”, this theme is even better! In his commentary on 2 November 2008, Russell Davies calls this day “The Festival of All  Humanity”, because it represents “the widest circle that God draws to ensure that nobody is outside divine love and care.” Reformation Day and All Saints’ are in their own ways celebrations of our own “family” of faith. All Souls’ unites us with all people, because of its reminder that, as Russell noted, “nobody’s salvation stands outside the circle of God’s grace”.

Contributed by Peter Butler