All Saints’ Day: A Celebration and Encouragement

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

Bibliography for “Living the Creed”

When I conclude a sermon series, I usually share resources I utilized in my study and preparation for sermons. Here is the bibliography for our recent series, “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.”

Bibliography for “Living the Creed”

Augustine of Hippo. “On the Creed: A Sermon to the Catechumens.” Translated by C. L. Cornish. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 3, ed. Philip Schaff.

Hans Urs von Balthasar. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Translated by David Kipp. New York: Crossroad, 1990.

Karl Barth. Dogmatics in Outline. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.

Matthew W. Bates. Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. 

Donald Fairbairn. The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.

Austin Farrer. Lord I Believe: Suggestions for Turning the Creed into Prayer, 2nd ed. London: SPCK, 1962.

Justo L. González. The Apostles’ Creed for Today. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Luke Timothy Johnson. The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

________. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. New York: Viking Books, 2016. 

J.N.D. Kelly. Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed.  London: Routledge, 2014.

C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952.

Martin Luther. The Large Catechism.

Alister McGrath. I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Ben Myers. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018.

J. I. Packer. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. 

________. Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007.

Wolfhart Pannenberg. The Apostles’ Creed: In Light of Today’s Questions. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972.

Jaroslav Pelikan. Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015. 

Rufinus. A Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. ACW 20. Translated and annotated by J.N.D. Kelly. Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

Helmut Thielicke. I Believe: The Christian’s Creed. Translated by John W. Doberstein and H. George Anderson. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968.

Thomas Aquinas. The Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed. Translated by Nicholas Ayo. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.

Liuwe H. Westra. The Apostles’ Creed: Origin, History, and Some Early Commentaries. Instrumenta patristica et medievalia 43. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. 

“Mary, a disciple of Christ”: a word from St. Augustine of Hippo

A good word from St. Augustine of Hippo on Mary as a disciple of Christ. This reflects some themes from my message this past week, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”

But look here, my brothers and sisters, concentrate more, I beg you, on what follows, concentrate more on what Christ the Lord said as he stretched out his hand over his disciples: This is my mother and these are my brothers; and whoever does the will of my Father who sent me, that person is a brother to me and a sister and a mother (Mt 12:49-50). Didn’t the Virgin Mary do the will of the Father? I mean, she believed by faith, she conceived by faith, she was chosen to be the one from whom salvation in the very midst of the human race would be born for us, she was created by Christ before Christ was created in her. Yes, of course, holy Mary did the will of the Father. And therefore it means more for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been the mother of Christ. It means more for her, an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother. That is why Mary was blessed, because even before she gave him birth, she bore her teacher in her womb.

Just see if it isn’t as I say. While the Lord was passing by, performing divine miracles, with the crowds following him, a woman said: Fortunate is the womb that bore you. And how did the Lord answer, to show that good fortune is not really to be sought in mere family ties? Rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and keepit (Lk 11:27-28). So that is why Mary, too, is blessed, because she heard the word of God and kept it. She kept truth safe in her mind even better than she kept flesh safe in her womb. Christ is truth, Christ is flesh; Christ as truth was in Mary’s mind, Christ as flesh in Mary’s womb; that which is in the mind is greater than what is carried in the womb.

Mary is holy, Mary is blessed, but the Church is something better than the Virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy member, a quite exceptional member, the supremely wonderful member, but still a member of the whole body. That being so, it follows that the body is something greater than the member. The Lord is the head, and the whole Christ is head and body. How shall I put it? We have a divine head, we have God as our head.

St. Augustine, Sermon 72/A, 7.

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 October 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


St Augustine burning heart“The Greatest Care Is Needed: Augustine on Moral Discernment and Church Leadership” – Joey Sherrard at Center for Pastor Theologians: “Augustine of Hippo was one of the first and greatest catechists of the church. He was a pastor in a time of great conflict and schism, a time when the church was beset by external challenges and internal turmoil. And one his most important pastoral responses to the crises he faced was the work of catechesis – the instruction and formation of men and women in the truths and implications of the Christian faith. A fruit of that ministry was a catechetical handbook he wrote for his fellow pastors, On Instructing Beginners in the Faith. It’s a remarkable combination of theological conviction and practical counsel, and from that little volume I’d like to draw two implications for pastors today in our own time of turmoil – specifically the turmoil caused by abuse within the local church.”


Noonday Demon“Varieties of the Noonday Demon” – Kurt Armstrong in Comment: “A quick scan of the Canadian Mental Health Association website tells me that in a normal year, one in five Canadians will experience some sort of mental health problem or mental illness. At least 8 or 9 percent will suffer major depression at some point in their lives, 2 percent live with chronic depression, 1 percent are bipolar. If we were to zoom in then on an average Sunday morning at my little neighbourhood Anglican church, it would follow that about thirty-five people will suffer some kind of mental illness this year, fourteen will suffer major depression at some point, three or four are chronic depressives, and one or two are bipolar. No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all those numbers higher. But even before the pandemic, the actual numbers at my church would have been above average. Not because Anglicanism is especially bad for mental health, but because the little congregation I am a part of attracts a disproportionate number of sensitive, creative, and intelligent women and men, precisely the kind of people who tend to suffer more mental health trouble than most. It’s a good place to be when you’re low, especially the Sunday evening service, when the lights are dimmed, attendance is sparse, and the service includes long periods of silence. Plus, the chances of hearing a cheery, don’t-worry-be-happy kind of sermon are next to nil. If you are depressed, it’s a good place to sit for an hour at the end of a Sunday.”


_112099487_church“Young more likely to pray than over-55s – survey” – From Harry Farley at the BBC: “Young people in the UK are twice as likely as older people to pray regularly, a new survey has found. Some 51% of 18 to 34-year-olds polled by Savanta ComRes said they pray at least once a month, compared with 24% of those aged 55 and over. It also found 49% of the younger age group attend a place of worship every month, compared with 16% of over-55s. The associate director of Savanta said the numbers could reflect the move to online worship during the pandemic. Chris Hopkins added that there were ‘a few theories’ as to why young people made up such a large proportion of the religious landscape.”


webRNS-Kirk-Franklin-LeanOnMe1-092821-640x640“Kirk Franklin rereleases ‘Lean on Me’ with virtual global children’s choir” – Adelle M. Banks at Religion News Service: “Kirk Franklin, like many musicians, has pivoted to online performances during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 16-Grammy winner brought his contemporary gospel music to NPR’s Tiny Desk, and he took part in a virtual benefit to draw attention to poor children across the world whose lives have been changed by COVID-19. On Friday (Sept. 24), Franklin’s entertainment company and Compassion International jointly rereleased a remake of his “Lean on Me” single featuring a virtual choir of more than 120 youth who live in 25 countries where the humanitarian organization has a presence.”


Dante Purgatorio“Reading Dante’s Purgatory While the World Hangs in the Balance” – Judith Thurman in The New Yorker: “Fifty years ago, I was a guest at the baptism of a friend’s son in the ancient church of a Tuscan hamlet. It was Easter, and lambing season. A Sardinian shepherd who tended the flocks of a local landowner came to pay his respects to the new parents. He was a wild-looking man with matted hair whose harsh dialect was hard to understand. Among our party was a beauty of fifteen, an artist’s daughter, and the shepherd took such a fancy to her that he asked for her hand. The girl’s father politely declined, and the shepherd, to show that he had no hard feelings, offered us a lamb for our Paschal dinner. My friends were penniless bohemians, so the gift was welcome. It came, however, with a condition: we had to watch the lamb being slaughtered. The blood sacrifice took place after the baptism. That morning, the baby’s godfather, an expatriate writer, had caused a stir in the church, since none of the villagers, most of them farmers, had ever seen a Black man in person. Some tried to touch his hands, to see if the color would rub off; there was a sense of awe among them, as if one of the Magi had come to visit. Toward the end of the ceremony, the moment came for the sponsors to ‘renounce Satan and . . . all his seductions of sin and evil.’ The godfather had been raised in a pious community, and he entered into the spirit of this one. His own experience of malevolence had taught him, as he wrote, that life ‘is not moral.’ Yet he stood gravely at the font and vowed, ‘Rinuncio.'”


Josh McDowell“Christian author Josh McDowell steps away from ministry after comments about Black, minority families” – Bob Smietana at Religion News Service: “A best-selling Christian author and speaker denounced the idea of systemic racism at a national gathering of Christian counselors, saying Black Americans and other minorities were not raised to value hard work or education. Josh McDowell, best known for his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict and other books defending the Christian faith, gave a speech Saturday (Sept. 18) at a meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors. The talk, entitled ‘The Five Greatest Global Epidemics,’ identified a series of threats McDowell claims face the Christian church. The first, he said, was critical race theory, an academic field of study on the nature of systemic racism. Known by the acronym CRT, critical race theory has become controversial among Christian conservatives and political conservatives alike.”


Music: Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno, “An Ending (Ascent),” fromApollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks.