I had the pleasure of worshiping in two of our congregations on All Saints Day.

In both congregations there was "a time for remembrance." This was done by the pastor reading the names of those members who had died in the faith that year, a bell tolling after each was read. Perhaps it was the same in your church. Hold that description of what took place while you read what Philip Melanchthon wrote about the value of the saints in the twenty-first article of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: "Our confession approves honoring the saints in three ways. The first is thanksgiving. We should thank God because He has shown examples of mercy, because He wishes to save people, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church. These gifts, since they are the greatest, should be amplified. The saints themselves, who have faithfully used these gifts, should be praised just as Christ praises faithful businessmen." He also says that another way to honor the saints is by imitating them, their faith first, and then their other virtues. "Everyone should imitate the saints according to his calling."

Here's where the challenge comes. How can one imitate a deceased member's faith and life if nothing is held up for imitation? Our society is so mobile that the chances are that many present that day may not even know those whose names have been read. At their funerals, most pastors do not wish to talk about the deceased's life because they fear the sermon will turn into a eulogy. I've never heard any of the deceased's faith or life held up for imitation on All Saints Day either. It struck me this time because of the word "remembrance." In the Bible, to remember something is to act upon it. While I can certainly give thanks to God when those names are read, how can it be anything but a generic thanks without some further information? For what am I to give thanks? While there could be danger of misinterpreting the pastors words to mean that the deceased was saved because of the virtues mentioned, silence is no solution if we are called to imitate the life and faith of the saints.

Then there is this problem which our society creates: if the pastor mentions the virtues of one, he will certainly be expected to mention the virtues of all on the list. It's only fair! Now our church's doctrine maintains that every believer in Christ is a saint, washed clean in the blood of Christ, yet the calendar of saints used by our denomination certainly does not list every Christian! So who makes the determination of whose faith and life will be held up for example and whose won't? Lest you think only the best should make the cut, consider another reason Melanchthon says that saints are honored: "When we see Peter's denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly super-abounds over sin." Would it be scandalous or refreshing to hear the pastor say, "On this All Saints Day we remember old Bob, whose tongue got him into more trouble than anyone could imagine. But Bob was in Christ since his baptism, and the Lord's rich mercy forgave that sin and all of his others, so don't think that any of yours are beyond Christ's forgiveness." That would be an All Saints Day nobody would forget! (But isn't that the point?)