Planning - All Saints Day or Sunday/ The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the All Saints Day or Sunday (November 1 or 6)
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
Worship planners will need to make careful selections today among the readings and emphases. All Saints Day is a "major feast day" historically in the life of the church, and it may be significant in your congregation as a day of remembering all those in "the company of heaven" with whom we always worship, especially around the Lord's table. As such, an All Saints emphasis in some way -- whether through Scripture and preaching or through other actions in worship, or both-- should be recognized.
At the same time, the All Saints readings may represent a significant interruption or even disruption to the flow of worship and the journey your community has been making with Scripture these past several weeks. If you've been following the Exodus/Deuteronomy stories, you will miss one of the culminating elements in this story --the celebration of the covenant after the conquest is completed (Joshua 24). If you've been following I Thessalonians, you will miss hearing the "meat" of this letter after what has been an otherwise very long introduction. Likewise, to move from the intensity of the encounters of Jesus with religious leadership in the temple (the past three weeks) back to the sermon on the mount (where those opponents are nowhere to be seen), could feel almost like narrative whiplash!
Meanwhile, each of these readings could function very well as readings for All Saints Day. Renewing covenant is about remembering and celebrating God's faithfulness to ancestors and to us. The issues of sexuality and eschatology in I Thessalonians remain critical markers and motivators for holy living today. And the gospel's call to be sure we are ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, as these readings start making a turn toward Advent, has long been used by Christians as a spur toward "that holiness without which no one shall see the Lord," to cite one of John Wesley's most quoted verses of Scripture (Hebrews 12:14).
So, by all means celebrate All Saints Day today. If you have been participating in Discipleship Ministries' "Season of Saints" in some way, today is the culmination. Celebrate it!
But choose the readings wisely, attentive to what your focuses for worship and preaching have been through this extended "Season of Saints." Consider strongly at least staying with the stream you have been following. So if you have been following the Old Testament, read the Old Testament reading for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, and perhaps the Epistle and Gospel for All Saints. If you have been focusing on I Thessalonians, read that today, perhaps with the All Saints lessons for Old Testament and Gospel. And if you have been following the gospel, strongly consider reading Matthew 25 rather than Matthew 5, while reading the other All Saints texts as provided.
In short, don't just "plug and play" with today's lectionary choices and celebrations. Exercise wise discernment.
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25.
At the end of the conquest of Israel, Joshua exhorted the people to renew their covenant with God. The people of Israel responded by reaffirming their intent to remain faithful to God and by recalling their history with God.
Psalm 78:1-7 (UMH 799).
If chanting, use Tone 2 in D Minor (UMH 737).
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The lectionary selection is the second part of the "meat" of this letter, addressing the church's need for clearer teaching about eschatology. The first part deals with sexuality. Recommendation: Read the whole chapter!
Toward the conclusion of his public teaching in the temple, Jesus warns his hearers to be ready like bridesmaids who brought sufficient oil for their lamps.
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John observes, inquires about, and reports on "the heavenly liturgy," a scene of perpetual worship by the saints, the angels and the heavenly creatures before the Divine Throne.
Psalm Response: Psalm 34 (UMH 769).
Use Response 2 (for All Saints) and Tone 3 in C Major if chanting the entire Psalm (UMH 737).
I John 3:1-3.
We do not know exactly what the life of the coming age will be like, but we know that we are to be like Christ. So we must focus on purifying ourselves now, pursuing the practices of a holy life.
Jesus teaches how God's kingdom is reordering the life of the world. God is actively blessing those who live this way. Here is the heart of Wesley's understanding of the possibility of all Christians becoming saints; or, as he would put it, allowing "sanctifying grace" to complete its work in us. Sainthood is not something reserved for a special few, but available to all who let God's grace align their lives with what God is already blessing.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Discipleship Ministries' "Season of Saints" concludes today with the celebration of All Saints Day. Throughout this "season," we invited you to highlight a historical Christian saint, a saint who is part of our United Methodist heritage, a saint you know personally in your congregation or community, and a saint in another United Methodist congregation or ministry.
Today we choose no select individuals, but remember and give thanks for all saints living or who have ever lived.
All Saints' Sunday This was John Wesley's favorite service of the Christian Year. However, when he revised the calendar and lectionary for Methodists in North America, he did not include it. That explains in part why some United Methodists may find All Saints celebrations more strange than familiar. Discipleship Ministries has a collection of resources for All Saints Sunday, in addition to our regular planning resources.
As you celebrate Communion today, you may want to draw special attention to the words before the Sanctus, "And so with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn." If on no other day of the church year, this is a day to sing this hymn, so that your music joins the music of the heavenly host. See the musical settings in The United Methodist Hymnal on pages 17-25. Also see Songs of Zion, 247; The Faith We Sing, 2256 and 2257; Mil Voces para Celebrar, 33, 82; Come, Let Us Worship, 233; and Worship & Song, 3171 and 3172.
Advent officially starts on November 27, but beginning November 13, the readings for each Sunday are already addressing the primary Advent theme of the return and final reign of Christ, making all things new. For resources to begin Advent celebrations a few weeks early using our current lectionary, check out The Advent Project website.
Looking Ahead: November 20, 2011, is Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, a major feast day in the life of the church since its founding by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 in response to attempts by governments in Mexico and elsewhere to declare themselves the ultimate authority in the lives and even the religions of their subjects. Plan to celebrate Holy Communion on this day. See "A Great Thanksgiving for Christ the King Sunday." See also this Call to Worship and this Service of Scripture and Song that recapitulates the whole Christian Year on this, the last Sunday of the standard Christian calendar.
Thanksgiving (USA) will be observed on November 24, 2011. See the United Methodist Book of Worship and the Planning Calendar of the Discipleship Ministries website for a selection of resources. See also "Musical Thanksgiving," Hymns for Thanksgiving Day, and "Traditional Hymns for Contemporary and Blended Worship, Volume 7: Thanksgiving."
The First Sunday of Advent is November 27 this year, and we move into Year B of the lectionary (focus on Mark's gospel, the stories of David's family, and the epistles of Ephesians, Hebrews, and James).
Remember, Advent isn't about Christmas -- mangers, shepherds and Magi-- but about its eternal context, the promised inbreaking of God's reign into the powers of this world and the fulfillment of that promise begun in God's incarnation in Jesus. For more specific guidance for Advent, see "Planning Advent for Year B" on this website.
Atmospherics 1: Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost with All Saints Themes
After Deliverance: Settling the Land of Promise
True to Our God, True to This Promised Land (See "Lift Every Voice and Sing," UMH 519)
The concluding chapter of Joshua functions as both narrative and ritual closure for the period of conquest and initial settlement of the promised land. As narrative closure, this chapter marks the end of years of fighting and struggle. As a ritual closure, the people renew their commitment to serve YHWH alone, not their former gods (whether of Egypt or Iraq) and not the gods of the people among whom they now reside (Amorites are specifically named).
As narrative and as liturgy, this story marks a different kind of rite of passage than the crossing of the Jordan we encountered last week. The crossing of the Jordan marked a transition from one place to another and in the process from one form of life to another, from journeying to occupying. This week's rite of passage marks a determination to "stay put," as it were, both in the land recently conquered and divided and in allegiance to YHWH and YHWH's covenant with the people.
As you plan for worship this Sunday, consider in your planning team where there may be local examples in your congregation or community of such acts of "commitment to stay put." But don't stop with the past. Look to the present and the future. Are the examples right now of events that God has brought you through to a new place of abiding that you have not yet recognized with such a covenant of recommitment? Are there some who have strayed to former allegiances who need to be called back? Are there those who are firm in the way, but for whom some act of covenant renewal may be important today?
Consider this text an invitation and a challenge to make such a renewal of your covenant with God in worship today, especially if you did not do so in connection with last week's "crossing of the Jordan" text. It's a most fitting thing to do in a full and joyous service of All Saints, along with a time of remembering saints of your congregation and community and a celebration of Holy Communion. You may find this service of baptismal reaffirmation, used at General Conference in 2008, appropriate for the context. A Spanish version is also available. Or you may wish to focus specifically on the first of the vows -- renouncing the spiritual forces of evil and repenting of sin --which derives from the basic covenant vows in this week's text.
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I Thessalonians: "Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow"
Holiness now and for the Age to Come
I Thessalonians finally gets to the meat of Paul's concern for the church in this week's reading. As suggested above, plan to read and focus on the whole of the chapter, not just the lectionary selection. Both of these issues, sexuality and eschatology, are important; and the nature of both of these was such that Paul and company needed the long reintroduction we've read these past three weeks to bring them up.
At first glance, these two topics may appear to have little to do with each other, or at least to be in tension with each other. The gift of sexuality, after all, has much to do with continuing life as we know it. Eschatology, however, speaks boldly about the end of all things as we have known them, and thus the utter temporality and ephemerality of this life.
Paul presents both fully here, with no hint of tension between them. His call for abstaining from "fornication" (sexually impure actions) is grounded in his concern that Christian people learn how to control their bodily desires and channel them in ways that show a life of holiness and an intention to honor one's partner, and in so doing to honor the life of the community (the body of Christ) that intends the same.
The call in verse 6 "not to defraud" probably refers to adultery. To engage in sexual relations with the marital partner of another is not simply to harm oneself but also to destroy the relationship with the partner's spouse.
In a culture then (and in many places, now!) where relationships for one's own "sexual fulfillment" (however that may be defined) are valued over other kinds of relational bonds, this commitment not to commit adultery was not and still is not quaint. Rather, it marks a radical commitment to God and to community, to being the body of Christ first and foremost. Truly being the body of Christ together is (or should be) the ultimate commitment of Christians to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All forms of love are valid and expressed in the body of Christ -- the love of God (agape), fellowship/friendship (philia), and the sexual love of marital life-partners (eros). For Christians, God's love and mutual friendship provide the context for the expression of sexual love within marriage. This commitment to God and to community has the effect of strengthening bonds of cohesion among communities generally, and placing a check on merely selfish desires that may undermine life and trust at the community level.
US Christians in many congregations and denominations talk about sex and sexual purity. Christians have been leading sponsors in US society of sexual abstinence programs for teenagers, have been outspoken on reducing teen pregnancy and abortions, have opposed and worked for limitations to pornography and prostitution worldwide, and have generally been at least hesitant when not hostile to embracing forms of sexual expression not linked to a lifelong covenant of marriage. These are all fine things to do and are consistent with Christian teaching in general.
What we know, however, is that divorces among those who claim to be Christians are nearly as high as the rest of the US populations, and non-marital sexual relationships as well as pregnancy happen also in similar proportions.
Perhaps this is a call to remember the audience Paul was addressing with his directives around sexuality. He was addressing the church itself, not society at large. He was not talking about what other people should do or oppose, nor about how the church should be an agent to help make people outside that community live according to Christian standards. He was addressing Christians as Christians, and more specifically, these specific Christians in Thessalonica in the context of their particular relationships with each other as members of the body of Christ. He seems to have very low expectations for "the Gentiles" (i.e., people not in the Jewish or Christian community) ever to live this way themselves. If they ever were to do so, it would be because Christians would show the way by their living example.
That's what verses 9-12 address. Paul and companions commend the congregation for its demonstration of loving each other well (verse 9). And he calls them not to rest on these laurels. Rather, he says, "live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands." In short, he calls them to take this way of life, this way of following Jesus and being his body in the world, seriously and soberly, not with a view primarily toward changing others, but rather with a view toward being the change themselves.
This is what saints do. They do not fix things or try to make the world come out right. They love God, neighbor and spouse, if they have one, living as shining lights of the world God is making right.
Who are the people in your congregation and community who show the way, not only in their practices of sexual expression, but in their first regard for God and neighbor where you are? Who are those simply living this example quietly, minding their own affairs, being diligent to show love "more and more" (verse 10).
If in our lives we live quietly, soberly, expressing love in ways that reflect our calling to personal and corporate discipleship and mission in the world, what of those who have died?
Verses 13-18, the verses included in this week's lectionary, provide some response. It would appear that serious questions had arisen within the Christian community at Thessalonica about what happens to the dead. It also appears that there were a variety of conflicting answers offered that had begun to cause confusion, if not division, among the believers.
Paul and his companions speak in these verses with direct authority, "by the word of the Lord" (verse 15), to eliminate any confusion. Christ acts decisively at his return, summoning the dead with his own shout, the archangel's call and the blast of God's trumpet. The dead are raised first, and then we who are still alive at Christ's coming will be "snatched up" ("raptured," it is sometimes translated) to meet Christ with them "in the air" (verses 16-17).
There are some matters that are uncertain, including the day and hour of Christ's return (attested in the synoptic gospels and in Acts) and how we will appear in the age to come (from the reading from I John assigned for All Saints). But Paul and companions here claim we can know with great clarity that Christ will return, summon the dead, and collect his living disciples, in that order. All three of these points bear upon our living now. While some have used this text to argue that Paul was over-confident in expecting Christ's return immediately, the text itself does not make that point. Paul's confidence is in the promise of Christ's return, not the timing of that promise. Christ the Redeemer and Judge is surely coming. At all times in this life we must be ready for this, precisely because we do not know the day or hour.
The dead in Christ are raised first. The verb here refers not to merely physical raising up, but "resurrection," the full enlivening of body and soul into a form that is indestructible, what Paul describes in I Corinthians 15 as "a spiritual body." This verse does not address where or in what state the dead may be at this point. But it does affirm that the first to experience the fullness of resurrection will be the dead in Christ. This does not point to "pie in the sky by and by." Given the certainty of our mortality and death in this present age, we must be ready, here and now, in this life, especially since death comes at an unexpected hour. We need to be found "in Christ" before that time, whenever it may come.
After their raising comes the "snatching" of those who may be physically alive on that day. Exactly what happens to our existing bodies at that time is not clear. The verb "snatch" conveys again sudden, unexpected and decisive action by another, in this case by Christ's call, upon us. But the larger metaphor here is not, as N.T. Wright has pointed out in Surprised by Hope, the "snatching," but the "meeting in the air." Snatching is simply a means to accomplish the meeting in the air itself. The meeting represents that of a welcoming committee that joins a coming king well before the king actually reaches the city gates.
In all three actionsthe descent of Christ, the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the snatching of and meeting with the livingsuddenness and decisiveness are the critical factors. All three will surely happen whether before or after we die. Our call now is both to encourage one another that these things will happen and to live in readiness.
Encourage one another that this life as we know it comes to a sudden and dramatic end? Encourage one another about this? Yes, says Paul. Yes. That is good news. It is full salvation, being "with the Lord forever." However much life in this age may come to be penetrated by the life of the age to come, it will only be in part. Full salvation comes with new creation, resurrection, new heavens and a new earth. That those things are surely coming is not a call to escapism from this life, but rather to diligence to manifest them as fully as possible, here and now, and to do so without the need for anxiety about the limitations of our capacities to do so. God's future drives our present at every point, in every relationship.
Paul's teaching "by the word of the Lord" about the end of this age is thus of one piece with his teaching earlier about the nature of love within the Christian community and the proper contexts and motivations for sexual expression within that community. The coming redemption and judgment in Christ drive us to holiness of heart and life.
So who are the people you know where you are whose clear hope in Christ's return and the resurrection of the dead inspires them and through them others to love and holiness in this life? These are those who have sung or still "sing with all the saints in glory" of the hope of resurrection and the return of Christ (See UMH 702). This won't be everyone in your congregation or community, nor, in some cases, I imagine, may it even be someone who is still alive. A vibrant faith in the return of Christ has often become sidelined if not maligned in contemporary mainline Christian settings. But it has been, and continues to be in many places today, a significant inspiration for significant transformation. Find and celebrate those voices and visions where you can.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Better Be Ready to Celebrate!
Though the gospel and epistle lesson were not selected to coordinate, today they do sound similar themes about readiness. The parable of the bridesmaids from Matthew's gospel was and remains a serious call to a readied life in the here and now. What is often missed in conversations about "readiness for the end," however, is readiness for celebration. The readiness Jesus speaks of here is readiness to meet and rejoice in the presence of covenant fulfilled.
Often, when we think of readiness to "meet our maker" we think of what has to be given up or pared away. There is value in that, too. But this story points toward a readiness of being filled, not emptied. This is a readiness of confident rejoicing, not fearful or hesitant wondering. And so it is about building a life that is characterized by such readiness to rejoice, being filled with the Spirit at all times.
In contemporary US culture, joy is often associated only with spontaneity. Happiness may be spontaneous. But joy, and readiness to rejoice at all times, is the product of a disciplined life of holiness. Perhaps some few may seem to have a "natural talent" for this. But the vision of this parable is that it is intended for all, and so invites all to be disciplined enough to receive it.
So it was with some of the bridesmaids in this parable the story Jesus tells. They had anticipated that the bridegroom may be delayed, and so had taken the time, money and effort to stock up and bring extra lamp oil with them. Because they were ready, they could rejoice with the Bridegroom's party at his arrival.
But some were foolish, and did not bring enough oil to supply their lamps. Perhaps they had failed to think through what they really needed to bring. Perhaps they were rushing at the last minute. But for whatever reasons, they had not prepared adequately to be able to join the party. So when they finally arrived, late, they were not admitted, nor even recognized.
Saints are not merely those who deny themselves. They are those who ready themselves by all the means of grace to celebrate the joy of God's salvation. Self-denial is part of that readiness. But so is thoughtful planning and preparation of more than enough.
Some in your midst, or perhaps in other congregations, may have become masters of the disciplines leading to joy. Find these people. Someone on your worship planning team may know at least one or two. Talk with them about their personal practices that sustain a readiness to rejoice, and how they have both found and offered support to others for this way of life. Then look at the ways your congregation already has processes in place to help others build and sustain a similar way, or begin to address the steps it takes to build new processes that do.
For imagery for worship built around this text, think about images of abundance, of fullness to overflowinggrain bins spilling over, fountains gushing, people singing and dancing, full of life and joy. Then take a look behind the scenes for each of these to the discipline, the hard work it took to achieve this overflowing, whether the planting and care for the fields, or the construction of the fountain and its plumbing (and the years of apprenticeship to become a plumber!), or the hard work that dancers and singers invest in their art. Be saints. Be ready to celebrate.
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Atmospherics 2: All Saints Day/Sunday Texts
Saints Embody New Creation
If you are planning a straight "All Saints Day/Sunday" celebration using only the All Saints texts, remember that these texts were chosen to relate to each other. A theme that unites all of them in year A is "Saints embody new creation."
In Revelation, we see an uncountable crowd of saints at worship, day and night. Very likely, the heavenly liturgy John describes here uses words and forms of worship Christians in his own day were already using. Certainly these words and actions have informed Christian praying and worship in the great traditions of the Church, East and West, ever since.
John does not see disembodied ghosts, but recreated humans, resurrected and redeemed, worshiping God with body and voice. The throng of the redeemed standing and encircling the throne (the Lord's table!) cry out their acclamation of "Salvation is our God's, seated on the throne, and the Lamb's!" Angels, living creatures and elders fall down while singing "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever! Amen!"
Standing, encircling, crying out, falling down, singing these very physical acts comprise the heart of the worship of these saints. How will you help your worshiping community, the "saints here below," join the actions of the "saints in glory" and not just the words in the worship you offer together this day?
In I John, we are reminded that we who are God's children now will be like Christ at the last day, because we will see him as he is (3:2). The hope of seeing him in his fullness then, and so being like him, spurs us on here and now to purify ourselves now (3:3).
Saints are those whose lives now become more and more pure as Christ is pure. We do not become pure by wishing it so, or by pretending to be so. We become pure by learning to live in purity and loveembodying purity and love in our own lives.
How will worship today inspire people not only worship as the saints, but to become pure as the saints?
In Matthew, the opening of what is often known as the Sermon on the Mount tells us who and what God is blessing here and now as seeds for the harvest of the kingdom. God blesses those who've had all "spirit" taken from them, those whom the kingdoms of this world continually grieve, those who know the wisdom of servant leadership, those who care most of all for justice, those who are quick to empathy and forgiveness, those with a single hearted devotion to God, those who seek to bring about reconciliation, and those whom the world actively persecutes because of their work for justice.
None of these are people who withdrew or withdraw from life, or found some way to "live above" the sufferings of this world. Instead, all of these God blesses engage life fully, and bear as evidence all the bruises, wounds and death-blows the world could deal out for the sake of God's way, truth and life. All of them embody new creation, and show it in their poverty, tears, service, mourning, hungers, in all they may have lost or never gained because they chose forgiveness over vengeance, reconciliation over winning, and to experience torture and death rather than deny the truth of Christ.
How will worship today help worshipers not only worship as the saints, learn how to become pure as they did, but also exhort and encourage them to live in the way God blesses, fully engaging the evil powers of this world as saints of the kingdom of light?
- BOW 450 (All Saints)
- BOW 453 (Psalm 107)
- BOW 455 (Joshua)
- BOW 468 (Joshua and All Saints)
- BOW 472, Act of Congregational Centering (Joshua)
Acts of response to the Word:
- BOW 501, Prayer for the Church (All Saints)
- BOW 510, Prayer for Discernment (Joshua, All Saints )
- BOW 511, Prayer for God's Reign (Matthew, I Thessalonians, All Saints)
- BOW 513, Prayer for Justice (1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 514, Prayer for the Mind of Christ (All Saints)
- BOW 528, Prayer of Susanna Wesley (Matthew)
- BOW 529, Prayer of Saint Patrick (All Saints)
- UMH 656 "If Death My Friend and Me Divide" (1 Thessalonians)
- UMH 886, The World Methodist Social Affirmation (All Saints)
- UMH 880, The Nicene Creed (All Saints)
- BOW 478 (All Saints)
- BOW 483 (Joshua, Matthew)
- BOW 487 (All Saints)
- BOW 490 (Joshua, Matthew)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 495, A Litany for the Church and the World World (All Saints)
- BOW 515, 516, Two Prayers for the Nation (Election Day)
- BOW 548, On the Anniversary of a Death (1 Thessalonians)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sao Tom and Principe
The Great Thanksgiving:
- BOW 74-75, "The Great Thanksgiving for All Saints and Memorial Occasions"
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
- BOW 551 (Joshua)
- BOW 556 (Psalm)
Blessing: BOW 562 (Joshua)
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