"Come, let us join our friends above who have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love to joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing with those to glory gone,
For all the servants of our King in earth and heaven are one."
-- Charles Wesley, 1759 (UMH 709).
When Charles Wesley penned and later -- with his brother John -- printed these words, he was not imagining they might be sung as a processional hymn on All Saints Day at Westminster Abbey or Coventry Cathedral. Indeed, such would have been out of the question. "Man-made" hymns such as this were not permitted in worship in the Church of England during his lifetime.
But more than this, as the text of this hymn shows, Charles had a vision of sainthood that was at once more inclusive and more demanding than any impressive public ritual one day a year could express. Charles and his brother John were both convinced that sainthood was the intended destiny not of just a few, but indeed of all Christians. God's intention in salvation is nothing less than to make saints of us all. God's desire for us is not simply to forgive us of our sins, nor even to work in our hearts and lives to deliver us entirely from the power of sin, but rather to work in us and with us "a complete salvation" that will "perfect us in love" in this life.
This hymn then isn't and could not be for the Wesleys "special music for special worship on a special day." It was rather an "anthem for a lifetime," intended to be sung regularly by the early Methodists in society meetings, class meetings, and in daily life as a constant invitation to "join our friends above who have obtained the prize, and on the eagle wings of love to joys celestial rise."
For us Wesleyan Christians, then, saints are not solely "exceptional" persons. Instead, a lifetime resulting in such sainthood is the expectation, opportunity, and challenge before all who are claimed as Christ's own.
And for a lifetime of such transformation, as wonderful as All Saints Day or Sunday worship may be, we need more than a single day of celebration and remembrance!
That is why we invite you to consider joining a growing number of United Methodists and other Christians around the world who are keeping a "Season of Saints," starting with World Communion Sunday (October 7) and concluding with All Saints Sunday (November 4).
Throughout this season of five Sundays, we invite you to invite your congregations to give special attention to three categories of saints each week, one or more during Lord's Day worship, and the others throughout the week. One will be a person from Christian history whose witness calls and inspires us all to more faithful discipleship in some way. Another will be a person from our more specific United Methodist tradition. A third is a "living saint" you name from your own congregation or wider community.
The saints for each Sunday from the first two categories are chosen based on some connection of their lives or witness with the lectionary texts assigned for that day. By all means feel free to change any of these names, or mix and match with last year's resources, or add others.
Here is a suggested list of saints from church history and United Methodist history to consider for each of the five Sundays this year. Hyperlinks are provided for persons who may be less well known.
|Date||Denominational Event||Christian Saint||UMC Saint|
|October 7||World Communion Sunday||Carpus of Pergamum||Anna Howard Shaw|
|October 14||Children's Sabbath||Nicholas of Myra||Samuel Checote|
|October 21||Laity Sunday||Monnica of Africa||Ida Bell Wells-Barnett|
|October 28||Florence Nightingale||Jacob Albright (Jakob Albrecht)|
|November 4||All Saints Sunday|
To help you share your stories and find stories of other living saints, we have a page describing this project on the United Methodist Worship blog. Just leave your story in the comments section.
How you will choose to recognize these saints either in worship or throughout the week is where the fun begins. Think about creative ways to tell their stories -- maybe saints videos, or children telling the stories. Use them as part of a testimony time after the sermon during these weeks. Post information about them on Facebook or Twitter during the week. Schedule an "All Saints Parade" on All Saints Sunday, with people coming to the event dressed as a saint whose life and witness speaks deeply to them. Whatever you do, make this a congregation-wide emphasis, involving not just worship, but also Sunday schools, youth groups, mission teams, caring ministries, small groups, and of course the choir and/or praise team.
We'll provide more specific ideas and information about the saints listed above for each Sunday during October in our weekly Worship Planning Helps.
However you decide to celebrate this season, may it help the "saints on earth" with whom you gather for worship "unite to sing"… and pray, and move toward perfection in love in this life, "with those to glory gone."