We just love that big, old, classic processional, don’t we? Imagine the organ hitting that big, bass G on the first beat and your heart stirs and you open your mouth because you know this hymn in the very core of your being and you belt out, “For all the souls who from their labors rest…” Oh wait, that’s not it. In fact the lyrics, written by the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, William Walsham How and first published in 1864 with the tune Sarum go like this:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
I am feeling kind of ordinary at the moment, and so the whole saint thing strikes me as a little heavy today—heavy handed even—like, “How can I ever live up to this call to live as God’s saint?” The stanzas of the hymn go on to reference some pretty powerful company: “For the Apostles’ glorious company”, “For the Evangelists, by whose blest word”, “For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye.” Geez-Louise, who could keep up!?
I know that isn’t what I am supposed to feel. And on plenty of other days, I know that I AM one of the saints—for we are all saints, we who claim and trust in the promises of God. We are blessed to be brothers and sisters of the greatest Saint and we are baptized into the company of the saints in light. We are given hope through God’s grace to reach for the stars and try to live like one of God’s saints. I also know that God loves me just the way I am and that my job is to work for spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. Gosh, I have preached this very sermon on All Saint’s Day, “you too are one of the saints.”
But today, I am inclined toward All Soul’s Day—maybe because it is Halloween as I am writing, maybe because it is finally feeling like autumn today—but I suspect it is more about me just being in touch with my human-ness today. I think being fully human lies within my soul and I am so grateful when I get to be there and not in my ‘self’. We’ve all got one—a soul that is, and when we are in touch with it—we are in touch with our whole being, the good, the bad and the ugly, the beauty of our being and trouble in our spirits, the brokenness of our hearts and the grace of our joy. Yeah, that’s where I wanna’ be today, in my soul, being fully present to my human being.
Truth is, the hymn goes on and gives this less-than-always-saint-like soul some serious hope, “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!” We ordinary folk are trudging along trying our best, doing our best, being our best— being beloved saints in the eyes of God. There is a great promise in all of this and his war imagery not-withstanding, the Anglican Bishop made it clear:
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Sing it with me…”For all the souls who from their labor rest…”
With blessings and prayer,
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: The hymn was first printed in Hymns for Saint’s Days, and Other Hymns, by Earl Nelson, 1864. The hymn was sung to the melody Sarum, by Victorian composer Joseph Barnby, until the publication of the English Hymnal in 1906. This hymnal used a new setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams which he called Sine Nomine (literally, “without name”) in reference to its use on the Feast of All Saints, November 1, or the first Sunday in November, All Saints Sunday in the Lutheran Church. It has been described as “one of the finest hymn tunes of [the 20th] century.”