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All Saints' Day, November 1, 2016
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
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.
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.
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,
William Walsham How's "For All the Saints" (tune: Sine Nomine)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
For Presbyterians, all who "call upon the name of the Lord Jesus" are given welcome into the company of God's saints. How strange that our greatest blessing is granted with such little personal fanfare.
"For All the Saints" is set to a tune, written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, that has been called one of the finest in twentieth-century hymnody. He composed it specifically for a beloved All Saints' Day hymn, written by English bishop William Walsham How. Yet instead of gracing it with a soaring or elegant title, instead of relating it to a particular person or place special to him, Williams chose to leave it nameless. That's what the tune title "Sine Nomine" literally means--without name.
Vaughan's grand tune is meant to be sung by all members of the congregation in one voice, as opposed to the harmony that defines many of our hymns. This nameless song invites all the living saints of the church--all of us, that is--to join in glorious praise of the company of God's saints--not because of who they were, but because of the one that was revealed in their lives. How's words also embody a universal language of sainthood, in which we can identify our particular saints who have labored with Christ, who have fought the well-fought fight, and who now rest with the God whom we worship.
As we celebrate All Saints' Day, singing this hymn can help us live into the spirit of saints like Vaughan and How, in whose biography it is written, "The writer dies; the hymn remains; the song goes on; tired ones listen and find rest. . . . To be praised is the ambition of the world; to be a blessing is the abundant satisfaction of those who, like Bishop Walsham How, sing because their hearts are full, and who, like their Lord, find their joy in loving service of humanity" (from Frederick Douglas How's Bishop Walsham How: A Memoir).
Almighty and everlasting God, on this All Saints' Day I give you thanks for the saints I have been blessed to know, who have raised me into awareness of your love, and who now rest with you. I thank you also for the countless and nameless company of saints with whom I am joined together in the body of Jesus Christ, your Son. Make me a blessing by this fellowship, and let my full heart sing out in joy that you have called us together to serve others in your name. Amen.
Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism
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