Do you remember when you first heard about Jesus and his love for you? Do you remember the person who told you about Christ's sacrifice and influenced you toward accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Now, imagine if that person had never told you about Christ. What a sad (and devastating) thing to think about.
There are many people who have set an example of godly Christian living for us to follow. Some we know; others we know of. Billy Graham is a wonderful example to follow, although many of us may never meet him in person. Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. are other great examples. The Bible talks about a cloud of witnesses that cheer us on in our faith. Throughout the history of the church, a day has been set aside to remember and honor those who have gone before us and set the example of how we should follow Christ. This day is called All Saints or All Souls Day and falls on November 1st. I believe this day is vitally important to our walk with Christ. It reminds us to be thankful for those who have gone before - those whom we personally know who told us about God and those who have told us through the pages of Scripture and other forms.
The Apostle Paul knew the importance of being an example for others to follow. In 1 Corinthians he says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Other Scripture passages that support the remembrance and honoring of those who have gone before include Mark 12:26-27; Ephesians 6:18; Hebrews 12:1, and Revelation 5:8.
Initially the calendars of honoring saints and martyrs varied from location to location. Usually, local churches honored local saints. However, gradually feast days became more universal. The first reference to a general feast celebrating all saints occurs in St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373). St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407) assigned a day to the feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where in the Eastern Churches the feast is celebrated to this day. In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to May 13th. The current observance (November 1) probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany.
There is a 19th century hymn entitled "For All The Saints" that focuses on honoring the cloud of witnesses that have gone before and set an example for us today. (You can listen to the West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir sing "For All the Saints" in the audio clip below)
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
And Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
I'll conclude with an All Saints prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer (1979):
who hast knit together thine elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of Your Son, Christ our Lord:
Give us grace so to follow Your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come
to those ineffable joys that thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.