Saturday, September 26, 2015

Year B - All Saints Day (November 1, 2015)

All Saints Day falls on Time Change Sunday in the USA this year.  So remember to turn your clock back and enjoy that wonderful extra hour of sleep.

All Saints Day is one great holy day for children.  It is both an opportunity to point to Christian hero/ines and a chance to explore God’s promise to be with us always and forever no matter how hard things get.  In years A and C of the RCL the focus is on who the saints are and what they do.  In year B (this year) the focus is more on what God promises the saints.  This year All Saints falls on the Sunday after Halloween on Saturday night.  That makes it an especially good opportunity to slam the door on all the scary Halloweeny stuff and focus on trusting God in the face of all the scary things we face on Halloween and every day.  So, I’d go with these texts rather than the Proper 26 texts that would otherwise fall on this day.  If you do go with Proper 26, you will find some All Saints suggestions in my post about them.  There is definitely an All Saints sub-theme among them.

All Saints Day

With children we tend to turn All Saints Day into a celebration of Christian heroes and heroines.  There is value in doing that.  Children need role models and it is wise to offer them some specifically Christian ones. 

To do this (and keep the Halloween costume interest alive for another day) invite children (or worshipers of all ages) to wear costumes or carry a prop related to one of their Christian hero/ines.  Stage a processional in which worshipers stop at a microphone to tell in one sentence the name of their hero/ine and why that person is important to them.  Help parents get their children into this with advanced publicity that defines saint as a person who shows us about God, lists several well-known saints, e.g. St. Patrick, St. Paul, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, at least one local saint and notes that saints may be living or may have already died.  In an oral announcement, identify one of your saints and tell what you would wear or carry to represent that person.  If there are churches named after saints in your community, encourage people to learn about one of those saints.  A light touch throughout will make this a fun and celebratory worship event for everyone.

Instead of wearing costumes, challenge church school classes and households to make a paper banner or poster about one of their saints.  Stage a processional of these art works and display them during worship.

The downside of celebrating saintly hero/ines is that it leaves most of us feeling less than saintly.  To avoid this, emphasize that all God’s people are saints.  Saints are people through whom God shines.  Each saint shows us a different part of God.  Illustrate this by naming what of God you see in some of the saints in your congregation – maybe the music minister or the guy who heads up the CROP Walk every year.  Challenge worshipers to identify what they see of God in people around them.  Remind them that the more people we know and pay attention to, the more we know the grace of God through those people.  To celebrate some of these saints (both living and dead) who are dear to members of the congregation create posters, banners, or table cloths decorated with their names.

Prepare several blank banners (possibly cloud shaped to refer to the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12).  Invite worshipers to arrive early enough to add names of their saints in fabric marking pens to one of the banners.  Just before worship slide the banners on to poles, process in with them, and display them prominently during worship.

Instead of creating banners create a table cloth for the central worship table.   Worshipers can write the names of their saints on a white sheet which is then draped over the worship table at the beginning of worship.  Candles, crosses, even communion elements can be added during a Call to Worship which summons all the saints, both the living and the dead. 

Two children’s picture books about quilts provide good back stories for these creations. 

In The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco, a woman immigrating to America creates a quilt that connects to memories of family in the old country.  The quilt is used as a bedcover, a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a baby blanket to wrap a new generation.  The book is too long to read in worship, but can be easily told turning to a few key pictures for illustration.

In The Naming Quilt, by Phyllis Root, a little girl goes to sleep each night with stories about the people represented in her family quilt.  The quilt is destroyed in a storm, but the little girl and her Grandmother still have the memories, and start a new quilt that includes the little girl’s name in the middle.  (This book may be harder to locate than the other.)

To introduce the idea of saints to the children display one of the following pieces of art.

Used by permission.  Go to

“Gathering of the Spirits” is non-literal art and will challenge children.  Some “I wonder” questions will help them understand the picture:
I wonder what that round thing is?  the sun?  the moon?  the light of God?
I wonder who the gold things are? 
Can anyone guess what the square things are? 
(You may have to talk briefly about halos here.)
This should get to a discussion about all the people/saints who we are always aware of, who show us about God by just being there, and who help us live well. 

Used by permission.  Go to
Or, look at her collage “Of Supper and Saints” in which many different kinds of “saints” gather around the Table.  Identify what makes each figure unique.  Then, ponder what holds them together.  What do they share and what do they gain from being together “at the Table.  (This is especially effective if communion will be celebrated during this service.) 

"(I believe in) the communion of saints..."
If you regularly recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship, point to the phrase “(I believe in) the communion of saints.”  Direct worshipers to find it wherever you have it printed.  Note that it is a reminder that we are connected to all the people who have loved God and followed Jesus in all times and all places.  We are a community, a family.  Name some of the saints you will be thinking of today when you say this and invite others to think about the saints they will remember.  Then, recite/read the creed together.

A Little Easter

All Saints Day is also known as a Little Easter.  Children are fascinated by celebrating Easter in a different season.  So bring out all the Easter paraments and robes.  If you “buried” an Alleluia banner or poster during Lent, bring it out and process it around the room as you sing a hymn with lots of alleluias. 

Talk about the difference in celebrating resurrection in the springtime when flowers blooming and in the autumn when everything is turning brown and dying.  Celebrate both the joy of knowing there is new life when you see it all around you and the importance of remembering there is new life when everything around you is looking dead.  Older children enjoy thinking about how different Easter feels in the different hemispheres. 

On this day many congregations remember all the members of the congregation who have died during the last year.  Children are keenly aware of the intensity of this reading.  Indeed, many adults have childhood memories of the occasion.  Ways to enhance this worship event for children (and all worshipers) include:

-        Toll a handbell as each name is read.
-        Light a candle as each name is read and leave the candles lit throughout the service as a reminder of the continuing presence of the saints who have died.
-        One church in Maine projects the names on the walls.  Talk about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!
-        Speak briefly about the connection between the living and dead saints.  At its best this can be a time when gratitude takes the center in the grieving process.

Selecting hymns for All Saints Day is almost a no-brainer.  But there are ways to make them more sing-able for the children.

“For All the Saints” is 6 verses long!  Rather than sing all of them at once, spread them throughout the service.  Everyone will pay better attention to the words.  At the beginning of the service point out the Alleluias and practice them so non-readers can join in.

“I Sing A Song of the Saints of God” uses simpler language, names very specific recognizable saints, and asks the singer to commit to sainthood.  Singing it in the congregation suggests to all that children are also saints.

“For All the Saint’s Who’ve Shown Your Love” by John Bell uses simpler language than some All Saints hymns but is not as “cute” as “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”

“We Are the Church Together” makes the point that the church is not a building, a steeple, or a resting place, but a community of people.  Before singing this song, recite this phrase and remind worshipers that they and all saints together are the church.

The second verse of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” is especially appropriate for All Saints and Communion.  Walk through it pointing out the connections.  Define cherubim and seraphim simply as angels.  Ask a class of children in advance to make banner illustrating all sorts of people and angels praising God together.  Process the banner in and display it during the singing of the hymn.  Sing the second verse again at communion even in response to the phrase “with the faithful of all times and all places.” 

Highlight the phrase “Praise Him above you heavenly host” in the Doxology.  Note that we are among “all creatures here below” and that everyone who loved God and has died is one of “the heavenly host.”  Point out that all the saints you have been talking about in worship today praised God when they were creatures her below and praise God now among the heavenly host.  Praising God connects us.

Singing “When the Saints Go Marchi’ In” in worship delights children and helps them understand the song in a new way.  I even heard of one congregation that sang “When the Saints Go Marchin’ Out” at the end of service.

Something to think about:  This is one of those days on which rituals, liturgy and songs have more power than preaching.  The challenge is to help children understand some of those rituals and the words in them.  It may be worth spending more time on getting banners made and involving people in rituals than in producing well studied sermons.

Year B All Saints Day Texts

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

Children live very much in the present.  It is even hard for them to believe it is worth living with braces for several years in order to have straight teeth when they are older.  So it is hard for them to appreciate this writer’s insistence that though it looks like God’s people who were killed for their faith will shine in the future and rule the world with God.  Isaiah makes much more sense to them.

Isaiah 25:6-9

Display pairs of pictures of people or groups who do not get along today and in history.  Briefly describe what they disagree about and how they fight each other.  Spread the pictures around the elements on the Table.  Read this passage or at least verse 6.  Then, leave the pictures in place during the sacrament.  Possible pairs this year include:
2 well known political adversaries
An Arab fighter and a western business man
Skin head and a black activist
A traditionally-dressed older woman and a young woman in a tank top with tats

Different churches say it differently but most have a phrase in the great Prayer of Thanksgiving that calls people to the Table in ways that connects that Table to the feast of Isaiah.  Presbyterians say “joining with all the saints of all times and places.”  Methodists say, “Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”  Your congregation may say something else.  Whatever it is, highlight it just before the sacrament.  Practice the congregation’s sung completion of this prayer.  Then, name some of the saints and imagine both living and dead saints from all over the world gathered around the Table with you.  From here go straight into the Invitation to the Table.

Communion on Isaiah’s terms is an upbeat rather than somber rite.  So choose communion hymns accordingly.  Sing mainly verses 1, 2, and 4 of “I Come With Joy.”  Even though older children can follow the words of this hymn you might want to put them into your own words to catch their attention.  Another choice is “For the Bread Which You Have Broken.”  Verses 2 and 3 can also be connected to Isaiah’s feast.

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is meant to be experienced rather than explained.  To experience it as the call to worship it was have it read by two groups.  “One” could be a worship leader or a choir in place at the front of the sanctuary.  “Two” could be a class/choir/group standing at the rear of the sanctuary or could be the entire congregation.

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Psalm 24

All:       The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
         the world, and those who live in it;
    for he has founded it on the seas,
            and established it on the rivers.

One:    Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
        And who shall stand in his holy place?

Two:    Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
        who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
             and do not swear deceitfully.

One:    They will receive blessing from the Lord,
        and vindication from the God of their salvation.

Two:    Such is the company of those who seek him,
        who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Organ chord, trumpet ta-ta, or other music

Two:    Lift up your heads, O gates!
         and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
         that the King of glory may come in.

One:    Who is the King of glory?

Two:    The Lord, strong and mighty,
        the Lord, mighty in battle.

Organ chord, trumpet ta-ta, or other music

Two:    Lift up your heads, O gates!
        and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
        that the King of glory may come in.

One:    Who is this King of glory?

Two:    The Lord of hosts,
        he is the King of glory.

                                     Based on  NRSV

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Revelation 21:1-6a

If you have been reading Hebrews, remember that the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-3) does not appear in this series.  In fact it only appears in the RCL on the Wednesday of Holy Week – a time many will miss.  So, it might be a better New Testament reading than Revelation 21 on All Saints Day.  If you do revisit the cloud of witnesses banner and table cloth suggestions at the beginning of this post.

If you do read this text, display Halloween decorations including haunted houses, skeletons, open coffins, and tombstones.  Point out all the scary, evil, awful things seen in these things.  Then read Revelation 21:1-6a stopping as you go to remove the scary things as they are mentioned, i.e. “the city dressed like a bride” is better than a haunted house, “no death” makes the coffin and tombstone unnecessary, etc.  You may want to replace each Halloween item with a Revelation item such as small posters with the red slash over the word death or a smiling face for no more tears.  The point is that God’s power and love have the last word over all the scary, unhappy things in the world.  It’s a good way to wrap up the Halloween season and direct attention toward the coming of Advent in one month.

Recent lectionary texts have included “alpha and omega” references.  If you have those letters stitched, carved, or painted into your sanctuary and have not pointed them out in the last month, do so today.  Identify the first and last letter of several alphabets and explain what the symbol says about Jesus and God being at the beginning and the end of the whole universe.

John 11:32-44

On the Sunday after Halloween children are first amused by all the details about dead, stinky, bound-up Lazarus and then comforted by the proof that not even death can separate the saints from God’s care.

JESUS MAFA. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved October 12, 2012]
Use the “Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life” painting to explain a few things about burial in that day before reading the passage.  Point out the cave and the wrapped up Lazarus.  Then invite the congregation to listen to a story about a man who died, was wrapped in strips of cloth and buried in a cave.  Urge them to get ready for a surprising ending to the story.  Then read the gospel.

Before reading the gospel display a Halloweeny skeleton maybe trailing some spider webby fiber.  Point out that up until today’s reading everybody in the world had died.  No one had ever come back from being dead.  Everyone was rather scared about this big unknown end of life.  Then read the story of the raising of Lazarus.  Immediately after the reading, point out that Jesus was giving them a hint about his coming resurrection.  Have an acolyte carry the skeleton ceremoniously out the center aisle.  Then say to the congregation, “the Word of the Lord” to which they will reply with feeling, “thanks be to God.”

Winston Churchill planned his funeral in great detail before his death.  At the end of the service he wanted a bugler to play taps in the back of one of the transepts of the cathedral.  After a brief pause, he wanted another bugler to play reveille at the back of the opposite transept.  If your children are scouts or have other ways to have encountered taps and reveille, they will grasp what Churchill was saying about his death.  If you have a bugler or trumpeter, that person might follow Churchill’s directions at the end of your service or might play taps at the beginning of the service and reveille after the benediction.  If you do the latter, consider calling the children forward immediately after taps and before the call to worship to identify the melody, it’s meaning, and why you are playing it today at the beginning of the service.  Urge them to listen for reveille and image what it means.

1 comment:

  1. Hours after posting this I tripped across this idea for using chairs with age appropriate people sitting in them to represent all living generations and empty chairs at each end of the line for those who have gone before and will come after. An interesting way to introduce All Saints Day. Go to


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