There have been martyrs for their faith since the early days of the Christian movement. John lost his head at the command of Herod. Stephen succumbed to stoning by a mob in Jerusalem. Paul likely died in a Roman prison, as did many others living under the rule of Nero.
Early in the church’s history a day was set aside to honor the sacrifice of these martyrs. By the 9th century November 1st of each year was set as the day for this purpose. It came to be known as All Saints’ Day.
Over time we have observed that while not all of us are called to shed our blood for following Jesus, all of us are called to be saints. None of us acts like a saint all the time, but all of us own the potential to live nobler, more fruitful, lives.
This Sunday, All Saints’ Sunday, we gather to give thanks for those saints from our congregation who have lived among us and have died in the faith. They did not find a cure for cancer, convert millions by their preaching or discovery lost worlds. But they did attend worship, phone a friend who was having a difficult time and bring a casserole for CARITAS. This is who saints are and what saints do.
This Sunday’s worship will include a prayer of remembrance and gratitude for the saints, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper and beautiful music by our Chancel choir.
Music for All Saints’
It is appropriate that in the years 1914/15, towards the end of his life, C. Hubert H. Parry decided with his Songs of Farewell to set to music various poems that deal with the loss of human life as we know it on this earth. It is also no coincidence that this choral work, expressing concerns about life and death, was composed during the course of the First World War, when the value of human life was so wantonly disregarded.
Sunday’s first motet from Parry’s collection is a setting of a text by the Welsh metaphysical poet, Henry Vaughan (1621-1695). Contrasting themes of war and peace, with similarly contrasting musical gestures, point up the conflict that we, as humans in search of understanding, endure as we contemplate our lives on earth and our lives in God’s eternal presence.
My soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles
And One, born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And, O my soul, awake!
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure
But One who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
The other texts of the Songs of Farewell that we will sing are given below for your contemplation as we approach All Saints’ Sunday:
I know my soul hath power to know all things,
Yet she is blind and ignorant in all:
I know I’m one of Nature’s little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.
I know my life’s a pain and but a span;
I know my sense is mock’d in ev’rything;
And, to conclude, I know myself a Man,
Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.
—John Davies (1569-1626)
Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore.
Never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more,
Than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my troubled breast:
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Ever blooming are the joys of Heaven’s high Paradise.
Cold age deafs (deafens) not there our ears nor vapour dims our eyes:
Glory there the sun outshines whose beams the blessed only see:
O come quickly, glorious Lord, and raise my sprite (spirit) to thee!
—Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
There is an old belief,
That on some solemn shore,
Beyond the sphere of grief
Dear friends shall meet once more.
Beyond the sphere of Time and Sin
And Fate’s control,
Serene in changeless prime
Of body and of soul.
That creed I fain would keep
That hope I’ll ne’er forgo,
Eternal be the sleep,
If not to waken so.
—John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854)