By Father Casey Shobe
This Saturday and Sunday morning, we will celebrate the Feast of All Saints and “the great cloud of witnesses” that surround us on all sides (Heb 12:1-3). In ancient Greek, the word hagios, which is translated “saint” in the Bible, is the word used for all the holy people of God – so, in a real sense, we are all saints by virtue of our baptism. In fact, we’ll have the privilege of baptizing five new saints into the household of God at the 11:15 service on Sunday.
But we also know that there have been some people in history whose lives pointed with particular clarity to Christ. They are models to us of what discipleship can and should look like, and so the Church has declared them as “Saints” – with a capital “S” – because their example of faithfulness deserves our particular thanks and can inspire our own living. Think of it like the special honors presented to some soldiers owing to their courageous service in battle. All the troops may have faced fire, and most may have responded bravely, but only a small handful performed with such honor that we present them special medals. This is an imperfect analogy, but hopefully it helps you understand the nuances of the word “saint.”
So, on All Saints, we celebrate all these holy women and men, particularly those whose names have been lost to history, who lived in such faithful obedience to the way of Jesus that we know they are gathered in the presence of God and sharing in the eternal praises. They are the “Church Triumphant,” and even as we trust that they share in the glories of heaven, we also believe their love and prayers can strengthen those of us still striving for faithfulness in our own day (sometimes called the “Church Militant”). This is why some Episcopalians feel comfortable invoking saints in their prayers, because we trust that these righteous souls can take our needs to God, much as we ask our living friends to do.
At an Evensong on Sunday evening at 5 p.m., we’ll honor the Feast of All Souls (also known as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed). This is when we pray for all those we love but see no longer, who we believe have walked with Christ through the gate of death and into the land of light and joy. We carry their memory in our hearts, and we likely pray for them often throughout the year. All Souls provides a time when we can gather with other Christians to remember all these beloved at the same time, asking God to care for them and move them “from strength to strength in the life of perfect service” in God’s heavenly kingdom.
Yes, it’s a very special weekend. All Saints is one of the seven Principle Feasts of the Church for a reason, and the holy space of All Souls can be a remarkable blessing for those shouldering the weight of grief. So, I hope you’ll come and share it with us. I hope you’ll join your prayers with mine, and with that great cloud of witnesses. Aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we, too, may become partakers of the saints in light, through the grace of Christ.
About Father Casey
Casey became the fourth rector of Transfiguration in October 2014 after having served churches in Rhode Island and Houston. He is married to Melody Shobe, also an Episcopal priest, and they have two daughters, Isabelle and Adelaide. Casey grew up in Temple, Texas, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. His Master of Divinity was earned at Virginia Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee). He loves playing golf, road cycling, hiking, brewing beer, and working in his yard. You can contact Father Casey by email.