Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: An Encouraging Word on All Saints' Day: Look Who's Watching

On the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church, All Saints Day is November 1st, which is the day on which many Christian Churches remember and honor the "Hallowed Saints" who have died. This celebration also keeps us mindful of the frailty and brevity of life.

Like many holy days (holidays) All Saints Day has become secularized to the extent that the original meaning has almost been forgotten. The secular form of All Saints Day is now popularly known as "Halloween", which is a term that is literally "All Hallows Eve", or the night before All Saints Day. All Saints Day has shifted from its original intent of honoring the "departed saints" to to a consumer-focused holiday in which we dress our children like ghost, goblins and other scary characters and send them from door to door begging for treats. One business magazine recently said that the American people will spend about 8 billion dollar on Halloween this year.

In the Apostle's Creed, which is used by many Christian Churches each Sunday, there is a phrase in which we say "we believe in the Communion of Saints...". I do not know the original intent of that phrase, but I assume it includes communion (communication) with the living and dead saints.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, chapters 11 and 12, speaks of how we live out our days in the presence of the living and the dead. He gives an extensive list of well-known saints who died believing that God's promise, which was unfulfilled on earth, would be gloriously fulfilled around the bend in the river of life we call death. He imagines that those heroes in the faith watch over those of us who are yet alive. They are our "balcony people". We cannot see them, but they can see us.

Then he says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

Life is such that we need the support of the living and the influential memory and support of those who are dead. This whole idea of the communion of the saints breaks into a new dimension when we realize that we have the on-going support of our friends and loved ones who have outrun us to heaven. Once we understand that aspect of how things really are, littleness and pettiness tend to fall away. When we recognize how much support we have from the unseen cloud of witnesses, it will make a difference in our understanding of reality. And, when we join them we too will look back and understand what now puzzles us, and we will call out our encouragement to those who remain behind. Look who's watching!!

Some years ago Columbia University had a great football coach by the name of Lou Little. One day a boy who was not very talented tried out for the varsity team. However Coach Little noticed that the boy had an irrepressible spirit of enthusiasm. While the coach knew he was not talented enough to play, he thought, "This boy will be a great inspiration on the bench. I will not be able to play him, but I will leave him on the team to encourage the others".

As the season went on Lou Little developed a tremendous love and admiration for this young man. One of the things he noticed about him was that when his father came to visit, they would walk arm in arm around the campus. He and his father were obviously very devoted to each other. Then one day Coach Little got a phone call informing him the boy's father had died, and that he was the one who had to tell him of his father's death.

When the boy got back from the funeral the coach asked, "Is there anything I can do for you, anything at all"? To his astonishment the boy said, "Let me start the game on Saturday". It was the final and biggest game of the season, and the coach was really in a jam. But he decided he would let him start, leave him in for a few plays and then take him out. The team was puzzled when the coach started someone who had not played all season. To everyone's surprise the boy went on to play inspired football play after play. The coach left him in the entire game. He was voted the outstanding player of the game.

When the game was over the coach asked him, "Son what got into you today?" The boy said, "You remember my father used to visit me here at school and we would walk arm in arm over the campus. Well, my father and I shared a secret nobody here at the school knew about. My father was blind, and today was the first time he ever saw me play".

Look who's watching!