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From the very beginning, the church has honored and revered its martyrs and heroes.
What began on a popular and local level gradually became woven into the liturgy, beginning around the fourth century in the Eucharistic Prayer. In the fifth century, a feast honoring all the saints was declared in some Eastern churches, and from there the celebration was taken up in Rome. In 835, Pope Gregory IV declared All Saints Day a feast for the entire church.
A day commemorating the saints is actually a day of rejoicing in the greatness of the Lord and hoping in his love. The victory that we see in the saints testifies to the Lord himself. It was not just their own efforts that produced such holiness, but the work of the Lord, who wants to pour the fullness of the life of Jesus into our hearts. This has been the hope and joy of all holy men and women always and everywhere, and it is our hope and joy as well.
The Book of Revelation contains a vision of the redeemed of the Lord, gathered around the throne of God: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). The victory of the redeemed came through the blood of Jesus, which washed them, purified them, and sealed them with the promise of eternal life.
The power of this precious blood of Christ is available to us every day by faith. We can turn to Jesus at any moment and ask for his blood to cover our sins and cleanse us. We can call on Jesus at any moment for him to pour out the power of this death and resurrection to strengthen us and enable us to live as God’s children. “What love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). We are his children; he has adopted us as his very own! Every day, our Father’s hand is extended to us and we have the great privilege to take hold of him.
Let us fix our eyes on the Lamb at the center of the throne who has promised to be our Shepherd and to lead us to “springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17). The Lord, who has worked in the lives of the saints, is ready to work in us if we will turn to him. Our God, who has chosen us to be his very own, is faithful!
Lord Jesus, the saints in heaven behold your glory and know the rewards of your life. Fill me with hope in your promise of eternal life. May we all share the joy of your saints in heaven.
Excerpted from A Year of Celebration: Experiencing God through the Feast Days of the Church (The Word Among Us Press, 2001).