On the first Sunday in November, my congregation will celebrate “All Saints’ Sunday”, during which we will name and honor all our members who died in the previous year, as well as the saints before them and in our wider community. This practice is not something I learned growing up or during seminary, but it has become a very meaningful practice for me and my congregation. It helps us process our grief, honor the memory of people who have been special to us, and project a vision for the kind of people we want to become.
In case you don’t know, All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) and its sister, All Saints’ Day, probably originated from pagan practices. Besides, Easter bunnies, Christmas trees and many other things had roots that predate Christianity. Over the years, the church has “baptized” other practices to bridge pagan practices and Christian beliefs. We could discuss the merits of it, but I prefer to discover the nuggets of the practices we have inherited to enrich everyone’s life. Whether you practice Halloween or one of these celebrations, we can learn something about our purpose in life by finding these gems and exploring their meaning. For example, Jesus did not institute the season of Lent, but the early church found it to provide a wonderful time to revive the church they thought was going astray. In the same way, even though pagan practices predate All Saints’ Day, All Saints’ Day is a useful practice for doing the same – reviving the church that too often falls prey to the cynicism of today’s social life by reminding us that we have a deeper purpose. than making money, scoring points or (especially at this time of year) getting the candidates we want elected.
The hidden gem of All Saints Day is that it forces us to think about mortality. We normally think of mortality only in the midst of deep grief, which is not the best time to plumb its depths. Mortality, in my opinion, is best thought about when life seems relatively good so that we can think about it more directly. Thinking about mortality during All Saints’ Day not only gives us hope, but it also helps us raise important questions: Why am I here? Who has impacted me and how can I help others? What really matters? How can I communicate my love and needs to others in a helpful way? All Saints’ also raises those other pesky questions we rarely think about, such as “What happens when I die?”
Covid briefly forced us to stop and slow down and consider some of the important questions of life and death, but now we seem to be intent on taking all of life’s “business” back to business as a matter of routine. I like being busy because it creates a sense of importance and meaning, but as a shepherd I fear that all the busy work we do substitutes action for meaning, being busy doing something worthwhile. Having a complete calendar does not equate to being important or making a difference to the kingdom of heaven.
Regardless of your religious tradition, I encourage all of us to quickly take stock and make our lives meaningful, busy. Our value is not in our net worth, our social network, our savings; or our ability to generate money, acquire property or have status. Our value is not found in denigrating others or ourselves, let alone inflating others or ourselves. Instead, God created us with fear and wonder (Psalm 139:14) to bless others (Romans 12:14), to do good to others (Ephesians 2:10), to watch over those who cannot not look after themselves (James 1:27) and pursue the life we have been given with integrity and honesty (2 Timothy 4:7).
I view All Saints Day as a big reset button that gives me a chance to reorient myself away from life’s distractions and refocus on what matters. May you take some time before the Thanksgiving and Christmas press comes in full force and ask these tough questions about your life. If you need help sorting out these kinds of questions, please contact your church or small group. If you don’t have a home church and a small group, today is a great day to let God lead you where you need to go. In fact, that would be the perfect starting point. The Christian faith was never conceived by Jesus as a solitary enterprise. Indeed, in my opinion, he uses the word “love” 42 times in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and love requires relationships. Given how far social scientists say we’ve become as a nation, simply making a friend, finding a group, and joining a church may be one of the best decisions we can make. for our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical lives. May November and December find you blessed and be a blessing to others, and if you want help, just reach out – there are faithful communities of faith in our area for a reason.
Reverend Brian Sixbey Sr. is the pastor of First United Methodist Church Fox Hill in Hampton.