The Great Multitude
This Sunday, November 5, we will observe All Saints’ Day. Officially, All Saints’ Day is November 1, but it is such an important feast day that we usually transfer the feast to the following Sunday. Historically, All Saints’ Day developed as a way to remember the countless numbers of faithful Christians throughout time and space of whom we simply have no knowledge. Of course, All Saints’ Day is especially significant this year because we are also marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
We celebrate the Apostles and several other New Testament figures with special feast days throughout the year (e.g., St. Andrew on November 30 and St. Mary Magdalene on July 22), and we also observe “lesser feasts” in remembrance of Christians who have lived exemplary lives since the time of the apostles (e.g., St. Francis of Assisi on October 4, St. Nicholas on December 6, and Janani Luwum, the Archbishop of Uganda killed by Idi Amin, on February 17).
On All Saints’ Day, however, we remember, in the words of John the Seer, “the great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).
Implicit in All Saints’ Day is the biblical reality that each one of us is called a saint. Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians with this address: “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1.2). That is why All Saints’ Day is one of the four feast days each year set aside for baptism. When we are baptized, we are set apart, and, in the words of the liturgy, “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” This year we will have baptisms at each service, giving us an opportunity to renew our own baptismal vows.
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day this year, then, let us remember that “great multitude that no one could count,” and give thanks that, as believers in Jesus Christ, we, too, are part of that multitude.
Artwork: “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico, c. 1423-24, Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London (via Wikimedia Commons)