All Saints' Day has long been one of my favorite holy days. No matter how closely I have hewn to the church or how far I have wandered, I have always, at least in some small way, marked this feast day.
All Saints' is an important solemnity in the Catholic Church, but it is widely ignored in low-church American Protestantism. The mainline, middling United Methodist congregation of my childhood tended not to emphasize the day. As I encountered a more robust liturgical Protestantism in my student years (most prominently at Boston University's Marsh Chapel), I learned to appreciate the theology, comfort, symbolism, and continuity that the church's observance of All Saints' Day represents.
I do not pretend to understand with precision what "the communion of the saints" means, or "the blessed rest of everlasting peace" or "the glorious company of the saints of light." But it does mean something to me.
Several years ago, I made a YouTube video, setting images to a recording of the magisterial hymn, "For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest." I tried to thoughtfully select images that were true to to the plain meaning of the text, even if many modern hearers have reservations about the militant/triumphant language and the spiritual/material dualism. The recording I used, a performance by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, omits several verses.
The video below, taken from the funeral of President Gerald Ford at the Washington National Cathedral in 2007, includes more of the verses composed by Anglican Bishop William W. How and first published in 1864. The hymn begins about a minute into the video, but it is worth watching from the beginning in order to hear the Prayer of Commendation and the Blessing as proscribed by the Book of Common Prayer. The audio quality is not spectacular, but the images are poignant. Note the Ford children holding each other and their bereaved mother, First Lady Betty Ford. Note also President George W. Bush and three living ex-presidents (and their wives), witnessing to their faith. The civil religion and public display of devotion may trouble some. But I find it compelling to see great men and women bowing their heads in reverent acknowledgement: "All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."
Here is the text of "For All the Saints" as most commonly sung in Anglican and high church traditions. Three other stanzas are usually omitted.
For all the saints who from their labors 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.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
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.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: