Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia! Alleluia!— From the hymn “For All the Saints” ELW 422 v.3
For the last ten years or so I have become interested in my genealogy. Over these years, I have walked through many cemeteries, I have searched records in both court houses and libraries, I’ve shared emails and photos with distant cousins and I have even submitted my DNA for testing. Sometimes I have gotten a little obsessed as I have tried to follow a lead down the rabbit hole. But it’s not just my story that interests me. I also enjoy watching others’ stories on shows like “Finding Your Roots” or “Who do you think you are?” I also enjoy conversing with others’ who are searching out their own genealogy. I’ve even volunteered to walk different cemeteries to take pictures of headstones for relatives who live too far away to make the journey.
You might wonder why I find this so interesting. As I have researched my own genealogy, I have found out many interesting facts like the first Dow arrived in the colonies only 30 years after the Mayflower, to those who fought in each war starting with the Revolutionary War, to my 4th Great Grandfather who was a pastor and I would suspect that if we could chat we might argue a lot since he was very conservative in his beliefs, and many other facts both great and small. In the midst of the facts, I always wonder about the stories that lead to these recorded points in history. Once in a while a story comes to light but often it is left to the imagination to fill the gaps in time.
On the first Sunday in November, we celebrate All Saints Day. On this day, we recognize those saints who have died in the faith during the past year and we also recognize those new saints—those baptized in the past year. This day also serves as a reminder to each of us that we too are saints even though we struggle as sinners. All Saints Day is also a clear and present reminder of the communion of saints. When we gather at the table, we believe that we gather with all the saints of all times and places. The altar is one of those “thin places” where the separation between heaven and earth almost disappears. It’s the place where you can commune with the 4th great-grandfather who was theologically quite different than yourself but it is also the place where you can commune with your parent, or spouse, or child, or friend, or whoever you have held dear in your in life.
I admit that I don’t always think of the communion of saints gathered at the table each Sunday morning. Sometimes I get too focused on myself and whether I belong at the table. But when I can step back, when I can recognize the importance, the significance of this moment, it opens up for me a whole new sense of appreciation, understanding and awe. It’s amazing what it means to be a child of God. It’s amazing to be a saint. But we need to be reminded because we tend to recognize that we are sinners much more than we recognize that we are saints. God has promised that when we confess our sins those sins are forgiven. We are set free from our bondage to sin to live as saints in the world.
As the names of the saints are read on All Saints’ Sunday, remember those saints in your life and what their witness meant to you. Also think about how you might be a mentor for the newly baptized in our congregation. And, when we gather at the table remember the saints gathered all around you. It should feel a little crowded but it should also feel a little like heaven.