This week's guest blogger is UUMC's Music Director, Nicole Aldrich.
One of my favorite church feasts is coming up: All Saints Day, November 1. (Of course, I like the Harvest Home Dinner, too, which this year falls on the same day we celebrate All Saints Day together—as the kids would say, “so much win!”)
I like All Saints Day because on it we celebrate all the saints who have gone before and who are still with us today. I am grateful to the saints in my life who have shown me by their example what it is to walk the way of Christ. I am thankful for the many generations of saints who have kept the Church strong. And I like to think about all of them sitting together around the “heavenly banquet” we talk about every Communion Sunday.
It should come as no surprise that I love the hymn “For All the Saints” (#711 in the United Methodist Hymnal). The wonderful poem by William How tells a story that connects us with the saints in heaven, and gives us a glimpse of what it might be like to be there. It begins by praising God for the saints, and for God’s strength given to them in their struggles. The original poem adds verses here celebrating the apostles, the gospel writers, and the martyrs. Then the poet makes a connection between saints living and dead: we are in “fellowship divine” with them, because we are all children of God. As we struggle in this life, we can look to their example.
Then come my favorite verses of all. “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song.” When things seem impossible in this life, we can distantly hear the rejoicing of those who have persevered and are now celebrating in heaven. Then our “hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.”
The next verses, which are omitted in our hymnal, describe the “calm of paradise” which is given to those who die in Christ. The “golden evening” that brings our passage from this life is followed by a “yet more glorious day,” when the saints triumphant rise as “the King of Glory passes on his way.” What a beautiful image: Christ walking among the saints in heaven as they worship him!
Then the final stanza describes another powerful scene: saints from all over the earth, countless in number, entering the gates of heaven and praising the Triune God.
Who indeed could not say with them, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”
You can read the entire poem at http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/a/l/fallthes.htm.