Summary: A brief overvied of "All Saints" and the omission by modern Churches.
All Saints Sunday
Thomas F. Bracewell OSL
It would be most interesting if we started this sermon/lesson by perhaps asking those who know anything at all about "all Saints Day" to raise their hands. . .of course I am not going to do that because there are possibly only a handful of us who are even remotely aware of this religious observance. In fact the only reference you will find to it at all is on the bulletin cover for today "let saints on earth unite to sing with those to glory gone." And again in that very very small print on the back of the bulletin where we read that today is "all saints Sunday" It is one of those religious observances that has all but vanished in United Methodism’s head long rush into the identity crisis we share with many other mainline denominations of the last part of the twentieth century. We are much like the lady who went a little mad one day and started running down the street casting off parts of her clothing as she ran along. When the police finally caught her and re-robed her and got her somewhat subdued they asked her what happened to make her do such a thing. She replied, "Oh I don’t really know , It just seemed like the thing to do at the time." Much of the worship and celebrations that John Wesley passed on to American Methodist have been amended, adjusted and often scrapped by the United Methodist Church because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time in trying to mimic other purely evangelistic denominations. That brings us to the service we all participate in this morning in Holy Communion.
Virtually all Communion services in both the Eastern and Western rites of the early church had two distinct parts: A service of the word and a service of the cup. These two parts were usually separated by an offertory, at which point the elements of brad and wine were brought forward with contributions for the poor from the congregation, to the altar to be blessed.
Protestantism as a whole was born out of a negative reaction to the highly developed sacramental system of Roman Catholicism of the later middle ages. After the reformation, contrary to the intent of such reformers as Luther and Calvin, the first part of the liturgy, the service of the word, became the main service of worship on Sunday morning.
The decline of communion among Methodist was one of the ironies of our history which briefly can be described by recognizing the theological position of John Wesley. He encouraged the early Methodist to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion on a weekly basis at the hands of an ordained clergyman of the Anglican Church.
Wesley’s communion theology is expressed in the words of the Charles Wesley hymn, "O the Depth of Love Divine." Wesley believed that Holy Communion was a means of divine grace flowing from the unfathomable love of God to the faithful; and the holy communion serving as an agency of cleansing for post-baptismal sins. Christ is surely and really present in the Communion , meeting us there and making us one. Therefore, we can increasingly love God and our neighbor. The very life of God, God’s divine love, is conveyed, imparted and transmitted as the real, immortal, holy blood of Christ. Through Holy Communion our Spirits are lifted into heavenly places. What better time to be reminded of this than on a Sunday set aside to commerate a celebration of "All Saints."
Bread and wine bestow power that is not ours to give. Virtue comes to us, yet the elements remain bread and wine in my feeble and earthly hands. We are told Angels bow at our altars to search out this holy mystery, yet the manner of His presence remains unknown. It happens in a mysterious way. Yet we marvel and adore Christ the Lord who is crucified , risen and indeed coming again.
In the year 1784, John Wesley bequeathed to his followers his last will and testament. . . The Sunday Service of the Methodist in North America, which served as the only official link to the worship of the ancient church by way of Wesley’s Anglican tradition. Bishop Francis Asbury, who had been instructed by Wesley, insisted that the Lord’s Supper service be conducted by duly ordained elders. With passage of time there were not enough leaders on the American frontier to celebrate the sacrament often. Special communion services were held, usually four times a year when the presiding elder would be present for quarterly conference. After Wesley’s death and the conference of 1792, the Sunday Service virtually disappeared, except for 37 pages of sacramental services and articles of religion by the year 1800. Communion continued to be observed but at the level of becoming a pious act of a believers loyalty to Christ and a commemoration of meditation of his death. It’s vitality and importance were sapped of life. It became precious, cozy, inward, psychological, and of course when it failed to produce the inner glow as such a service could not help but fail to do: people gradually stopped coming to communion. Thus the insignificance of Holy Communion is a hallmark of American Methodism today.