Two years ago, one of the best movies of this decade was released: “Coco,” a Pixar animation film about the tradition known as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It takes place in Mexico, and is the story of a young boy trying to learn his family’s history and the dangers of forgetting one’s ancestors. The church celebrates the same tradition by observing All Saints Day: November 1. All Saints is an exercise in memory, in that we remember the lives of brothers and sisters in Christ who have died in the past year. And our memory stretches back even further, to the martyrs, the matriarchs and patriarchs of the faith, and those we were not related to, but had substantial impact on our lives.
John and Charles Wesley began the Methodist movement in England three centuries ago. Both of them were priests in the Church of England, so they loved the liturgy and tradition of the church. In his diary from All Saints Day, 1756, John Wesley wrote, “How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints!” Charles Wesley’s hymn “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above” says this:
Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned, and shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound. O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given! Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in heaven.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that 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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
All Saints is very personal for me this year, because I am remembering my grandparents, both of whom died this year. My grandparents had a tremendous impact on my life. In worship this week, we recognized and honored the memory of Grace United Methodist members who died this year, as well as immediate family of our members. We do this to remember these lives, giving thanks to God for their faithfulness and impact. That’s another important aspect of All Saints: it’s not only about those who have died, but also those who are living. We witness to our own faith in the Lord’s resurrection, the deliverance from our fear of death, and pray that we too may impact the lives of others.
Thinking about this holy tradition, even if your congregation doesn’t observe it in worship, consider: who are the names and faces you remember who nurtured you in the faith? Offer their memory in a prayer of gratitude to God. Next, who are the young people in your faith tradition, as well as the broader community, whose lives could be impacted by your own? Consider mentoring a young person in your student ministry, or sign up to help read or assist with homework. Someday a child may well remember you as a saint on a future All Saints Day/Dia de los Muertos.
If you haven’t seen Coco, it’s on Netflix this month. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at http://www.pastorfrankdrenner.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.