This is one of my very favorite celebrations of the church. I have long lamented that there are not enough spaces in the church calendar to share our grief. This is one of the few.
This year, when the death toll of COVID-19 continues to rise over 200,000, it feels especially important to give space for all that we are grieving right now. In my first newsletter, I shared this old liturgy with lots of space for silence. I confessed that I didn’t think it would work for online worship but I wanted to write something else to honor this holy day. If All Saints is new to you, as it was to me not too long ago, I offer this very brief history from an old worship bulletin from one of the churches I’ve served.
As early as the fourth century, days were set aside to commemorate all the saints at once. Today we continue this tradition using the varied practices of All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead all of which are celebrated on November 1 or 2. Though in the Catholic tradition where this celebration honored unknown saints and to remedy deficiencies in people’s observance of a particular saint’s day, we do not canonize or pray to saints, but we look to these towering figures of our heritage for inspiration and encouragement in our own Christian pilgrimage. All Saints Day should challenge us by presenting us with a variety of figures from different times and places whose often contradictory styles of faithfulness enlarge our notion of what it means to be a disciple and a saint.
Unlike the other prayers that I share on a weekly basis, I wanted to offer a complete liturgy for this day. I not only hope this gives our pastors some space to worship themselves, but it also allows me to play a bit more. Play is good for all our souls. I need to play even if in relishing in the joy of playing I managed to pick the epistle for Proper 27 instead of the selected readings from Proper 26. I knew I was going to ignore the lections for actual All Saints Day though there is a nod to the gospel in one of the songs I’ve selected. I decided not to change it and let the text speak to the lamentation of this time.
Gathering for Worship
Invitation to Worship Let us begin our lament here, O God, in an act of memory of all that has happened in all that we could not believe was possible as good white people as people who had never known how far and wide a virus could actually reach as people who who thought we had enough faith. Show us what we do not want to remember and what we cannot bear to remember after so much has been lost in only a few short months. O God, let us begin here in all full lament.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
On the central screen that guides your worship (which would usually be the primary speaker in Zoom), place a large white pillar candle upon a candle holder or even a recognizable parament from your church’s treasure of beautiful things.
Go slow. Start by laying out the parament or candle holder onto the table on screen and then slowly place the candle in the center. Using a candle lighter or just a match (but please not one of these awful things), light the wick. Do this all in silence. Create a slide to follow these words or simply pray aloud:
O Light of Christ, bring your steadfast love here to illuminate all that will be gathered here. Redeem us from trouble in the fire of your love. Amen.
Readings for All the Saints
A Reading of Poetry The Truly Great by Stephen Spender
A Reading from Scripture 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 4:13-18
Lighting the Memory of the Saints
With the Christ candle at the center of the screen, push a basket of tealights so that it is just barely visible on screen. Use these movements as liturgical actions where you are setting the space and preparing yourself and those watching for prayer. (You’ll need room so don’t push it too close.) Begin by offering these words:
We will not be uninformed about those who have died. We grieve so many. We feel such loss even as we cling to hope. We encourage each other by remembering their names.
You may choose to have gathered a list of names from within your congregation as is your tradition each year. You may search the necrology of your church as you do every year for those that have died in the past year in your community. Or you could choose to use this list of saints that will, sadly, probably need additions before the first of November.
Paul of Tarsus Priscilla Francis of Assisi Julian of Norwich Teresa of Avila Martin Luther Harriet Tubman Sojourner Truth Mahatma Ghandi Martin Luther King, Jr. Mother Theresa James Lipton Ahmaud Arbery Kenny Rogers Rev. Joseph E. Lowery Breonna Taylor Vanessa Guillen Bill Withers John Prine George Floyd Cornelius Fredericks Little Richard Betty Wright Priscilla Slater Larry Kramer Hugh Downs John Lewis C.T. Vivian Regis Philbin Herman Cain Chadwick Boseman Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Eddie Van Halen
After each name is spoken, softly and gently, reach for a tealight. Light the tealight from the Christ candle and place it underneath the light of Christ so that the light of Christ radiates with the light of the saints you have named. Continue until the last name is read. Pause. After pausing, then close in prayer with these words.
O Light of Christ, we have witnessed lives well lived and lives cut too short. We are left below this great cloud of witnesses to continue the struggle for justice and love in this world. Still, we lament that we've lost these partners. May their memories be a blessing and a light to our labor. Amen.
Though I would be more inclined to recruit the talents within the congregation to sing We Grieve the Many Thousands by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded) or We Grieve 200,000 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded), I provide the above video as another option. It is covered by the CCLI license as shown here.
Sharing the Feast of God with All the Saints
As much as possible, and assuming that the presider has also spoken the earlier liturgy, keep the Christ candle and tealights in view as communion is shared with the great cloud of witnesses. Bring the loaf and cup alongside. As you share the story of that Last Supper, do not hesitate to make elaborate gestures of the bread breaking and the wine being poured. These things tell the story beyond words.
Invitation to the Feast More than even the flickering lights, we feel the waves of grief rise as we gather around this table to do what we have always done: remember, share and bless. To remember the goodness of God as we shake the crumbs off familiar paraments faithfully mended over the generations. We remember who was once here with us. We feel their absence. To share in the mystery of sacred story that reaches across lifetimes and generations to be broken and poured out with new meaning again. To bless the grief that tastes as salty as the bread and bitter as the wine puckering our lips. We gather here with all the saints to remember to share and to bless.
Prayer of Blessing Ancient Spirit, rise from sacred story to everyday truth so that we can find you again in these ordinary elements on our shared table. Even when we are not in one place, may we find in this bread your wholeness. May we find in this cup your joy. Fill our humble bellies with your wonder as you bless this bread and cup. Bless our hearts with fullness. Amen.
Prayer after Communion Holy Three in One, thank you for this feast. We have remembered who’s we are and who we love. We have blessed our grief and tasted goodness so let us go now to be light and salt for this world. Amen.
I would let music be the blessing for this time of lament. Allow the candles to keep burning as the Light of Christ and all the saints go with us into the days ahead. I offer two options. I prefer the above song. You can find CCLI license information here. You could instead choose God Will See Us Through which has options for a video download or sheet music for the talent in your congregation.
As always in these pandemic prayers, you are welcome to use part of this liturgy or all of it. I am not asking you to bend over backwards to offer me credit. I am instead offering this as a gift because you are doing so much and I’m praying for you and the ministry you are doing with such love.