The world around us is all about Halloween. It has become second only to Christmas in terms of decorations and displays. It is a big deal, to say the least. And it isn’t hard to see the connections between what began as All Hallows Eve and what is now being observed, although we have to admit that frightening folks with depictions of the next world seems to many folks to be somewhat antithetical to the gospel. Whatever you choose to do about Halloween in your local setting, worship needs to focus on All Saints Day instead.
This is why we chose to create a “standalone” series for this day. Particularly in light of whatever ongoing issues there might be about grieving the dead over the past year and half, it seems good to spend some time reflecting on the promises of eternity and to give space to remember and to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer a part of the community in the flesh.
Last year, we suggested that All Saints Day might follow the pattern of the funeral service in the Book of Worship. It is important to note that we in The United Methodist Church don’t call these funeral services, but services of death and Resurrection. That is an important proclamation in and of itself. Certainly, the pain of death is real, and grieving—both individually and collectively—is often a difficult experience that we face in different ways. But to proclaim the confidence in eternity is a powerful message and often sustaining for many who are missing loved ones.
No doubt, your local congregation has traditions around the observance of All Saints, and these should be continued. We do not have to reinvent the wheel each time we approach a significant event in the worship life of a community of faith. Keeping traditions is often a sign in the confidence of the God who sustains us. For those who are looking for innovation, it could be possible to build on the familiar rituals with something new that doesn’t take away from what has been done but adds something that could become meaningful in the future. Perhaps invite new voices to read the names or arrange the candles to be lit in different ways. Maybe invite the families who have lost loved ones to do the lighting or to carry the banner of names. If possible, project images of the people being remembered; ask for images of them engaged in an activity rather than in a portrait.
The mood of All Saints is one of celebration. Certainly, there is sadness in acknowledging loss, and there needs to be space for that grieving. Yet the overall experience is one of joy and hope. Therefore, we sing about the hope of eternity; we celebrate the cloud of witnesses; we pray for the sense of belonging together in community and the growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.