God of the Living
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 6, 2022
All Saints’ Day Worship Service
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21; Luke 20:27-38
In the early Christian tradition, to mark the anniversary of a martyr’s death, saints’ days were celebrated on the day of the saint’s birthday. But, after half a century, there were so many martyrs due to persecution, it became hard to give them all their due. Thus, All Saints’ Day was established to honor all the saints—those known and those unknown. In time, in the Reformed tradition, the emphasis of All Saints’ Day changed to focus more on giving thanks for the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God—including ordinary believers like you and me. While All Saints’ Day falls on the first day of November, it is common for churches to recognize the holiday on the first Sunday of November—which is what we do. On this sacred day, we pause to give thanks for the members, family, and friends of our community of faith who have died in the past year. We also pray to one day be counted among the company of saints for all time.[i]
The Presbyterian Companion to the Book of Common Worship offers these words:
All Saints’ Day is a time to rejoice in all who through the ages have faithfully served the Lord. The day reminds us that we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints. It is a time to claim our kinship with the “glorious company of apostles … the noble fellowship of prophets … the white-robed army of martyrs.” It is a time to express our gratitude for all who in ages of darkness kept the faith, for those who have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth, for prophetic voices who have called the church to be faithful in life and service, for all who have witnessed to God’s justice and peace in every nation.
To rejoice with all the faithful of every generation expands our awareness of a great company of witnesses above and around us like a cloud. It lifts us out of a preoccupation with our own immediate situation and the discouragements of the present. In the knowledge that others have persevered, we are encouraged to endure against all odds. Reminded that God was with the faithful of the past, we are reassured that God is with us today, moving us and all creation toward God’s end in time.
“Toward God’s end in time…” God’s “end in time” is what concerns the Sadducees who approach Jesus with a million-dollar question about the resurrection. Although they deny the Pharisaic teaching of the resurrection, they bring to Jesus words of Moses to help make their case.
The Sadducees, one of the parties within Judaism, are of the priestly class and theologically conservative. For them, Scripture consists of the 5 books of Moses—and nothing more. In the Pentateuch they find no proof of resurrection. The Pharisees, on the other hand, accept the authority of the prophets and the writings of Moses as their Scripture—as well as the oral tradition from Moses. Within their wider canon, they find ample evidence of resurrection. Not surprisingly, this is a topic of hot debate between the two religious parties.
So, in our gospel reading for today, we watch as the Sadducees set up a highly unlikely scenario. With their question, they expect to paint Jesus in a corner—they expect to trap him—so that his only choice will be to speak against Moses OR against the resurrection. But Jesus refuses to play their game. Instead, he shifts the focus altogether. First, Jesus points to the inappropriateness of their question. Life in this age is different than life in the age to come. Those who attain the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage. They are like the angels. They are God’s children—children of the resurrection.
Then, since the Sadducees use Moses’ words to interrogate Jesus with a question based on Deuteronomy 25 (which details the duty of a man toward a deceased brother), Jesus responds with Moses’ words, too, referencing Exodus 3:6, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.”
The Sadducees try to trick Jesus by asking a ridiculous riddle about a life they don’t even believe in. Jesus answers—not to the riddle—but to the larger question of God’s coming Kingdom.[ii] Jesus describes a God whose love cannot be measured and will not be broken by death. Nor will it be confounded by human interpretations and systems.[iii]
The question of the resurrection is important to the Christian faith and really to all people who reflect on life and death. What good news it is to hear that neither life nor death can separate us from God’s love—for to God—all are alive—we are all connected and will be—always. And for those considered worthy of taking part in life in the age to come—they are children of the resurrection. What a powerful word of hope for the original hearers of Jesus’ message! What a powerful word of hope for us today!
Jesus, the very Word of God, is a man of words worthy of being written in Scripture, and worthy of being written on our hearts—words like, “Come all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” —words like “Love one another as I have loved you.” The words of Jesus give us strength, give us hope, transform us, and make us servants in this time and place, servants who will one day become children of the resurrection. For, as mere mortals, our birth sets us on a journey that will lead us back to the earth. Someday, someone will light a candle for us—read our name—and honor our lives. For what words will we be remembered? Kind words? Wise words? Loving words? Words that build up or words that tear down?
Today we remember those Saints who have joined that great cloud of witnesses that surround us. They may have left their earthly dwelling, but in some mysterious way we cannot fully understand, we remain connected to them. In our hearts, their love lingers on. Even the thought of them can flood us with such sweet sorrow. They brought us joy by simply being who God created them to be. We remember the ways they enriched our lives. We remember words they spoke. And we draw comfort from the deep well of Jesus’ words—words that promise us that our loved ones—though on the earth no longer—are still alive in the presence of our Holy and Glorious God—the God of Abraham—the God of Isaac—the God of Jacob—the God of Sarah—the God of Rebecca—the God of Rachel—the God of the Living—not the dead—for to God all are alive! Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us now enter into “A TIME OF REMEMBRANCE FOR ALL SAINTS’ DAY.”
[i] “All Saints’Day,” presbyterianmission.org
[ii] Fred Craddock, Interpretation Series: Luke
*Cover via “The Communion of Saints,” by Ira Thomas, used by permission