Last Friday, Nov. 1, was All Saints’ Day, harkening back to the 4th century, when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in late May or early June) in honor of all martyrs and saints, known and unknown.
Pope Gregory IV made All Saints’ Day an authorized holiday in 837, perhaps choosing Nov. 1 in an attempt to supplant the pagan Festival of the Dead.
In 1864, Bishop William W. How wrote a text originally entitled, “Saints Day Hymn Cloud of Witnesses Hebrews 12:1.” “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses; let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
Bishop How was affectionately known by such titles as the “poor man’s bishop” and the “people’s bishop” throughout the city of London. His untiring energy and genuine interest in the spiritual welfare of the common people brought him the respect and love of all who knew him.
The hymn text was intended to be a commentary on the clause of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints.”
The composer of the tune, “Sine Nomine” (which literally means “without a name”), was Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the most significant English composers of the 20th century.
“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;
“Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
“For the Apostles . . .
“For the Evangelists . . .
“For the Martyrs . . .
“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
“Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
“And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
“From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
“Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
“And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Keeping in mind that Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints, take a moment to recall the generations of saints who have preceded you in the Christian faith.
All the way back to Christ stands a long line of the faithful believers on whose theological shoulders we stand and by whose positive examples we find inspiration to continue to follow in the ways of our Lord. May all who come behind us find us faithful, too.
Thank God for all the saints past, present, and future!