Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Feast of All Saints

Today is All Saints' Day though many churches will celebrate it tomorrow.  My own congregation will mark it both days as today we have more than twenty people being confirmed by a visiting bishop, and tomorrow we will have our regular feast-day liturgy, to which many look forward.

Several of the hymns for this day are fairly long, so today's text might be a good alternative, especially for time-conscious worship leaders.  It still covers all the bases, praising saints both known and unknown and expressing our own aspirations to join that heavenly throng.

Eternal God, we give you praise and glory
For the bright cloud of witnesses unseen,
Whose names shine forth like stars, in sacred story,
Guiding our steps to realms of light serene;

And for your unknown saints, our praise adoring,
Fount of all sanctity, to you we yield,
Who in your treasure-house on high, are storing
Jewels who luster was, on earth, concealed.

Though, in your service, we have often slumbered,
Like the ten maidens, foolish ones and wise;
Yet with your saints, may we at last be numbered,
And at your call with burning lamps arise.

Mary Ann Thomson, 1889; alt.
Tune: EIRENE (
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

The parable of the wise and foolish maidens (or bridesmaids, or virgins) is from Matthew 25:1-13, and although that lesson is most often read during Advent it also speaks to our own hopes of heaven.

Mary Ann Thomson (1834-1923) is still known today in many places as the author of O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling, a missionary hymn that some might find outdated.  I recently encountered it after several  years at a funeral for an Episcopal priest, a woman who was active in the work of the church long before she ever had any hope of ordination.  The gathered congregation, including many priests of an older generation, belted it out with enthusiasm, conveying the significance that it clearly held for them.  I began to understand it in a more general way, taking from it the sense of doing the work of the gospel in the world rather than converting the world to one religion.

Six Years Ago: Who are these like stars appearing?

Five Years Ago: For all the saints

Four Years Ago: The saints of God! their conflict past

Two Years Ago: Hark! the sound of holy voices

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