I am thinking this week about All Saints’ Sunday which we will celebrate in worship this week. All Saints’ Feast Day or All Souls’ Day is a celebration that can be traced to the early days of the Christian Church. For Methodist, we most probably trace this celebration back to the 8th century British Isles where some historians suggest that All Saints’ was a Christian substitution for a Celtic pagan holiday called Samhaim. Whatever its origin, the modern Methodist practice is to remember those saints from our congregations who have died in the past year. For me, this is a beautiful, meaningful, and solemn service which makes it one of my favorite Sundays in the church year.
Part of my feeling about All Saints’ is the music associated with this Sunday. We always sing the powerful hymn, “For All the Saints” set to the hymn tune “Sine Nomine” by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. This is one of my favorite hymns and, of course, we only sing it once a year. Our anthem is also a setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams called “O How Amiable” and is based on Psalms 84. The text is from the Book of Common Prayer:
O how amiable are thy dwellings thou Lord of hosts
My soul hath a desire and longing
to enter in to the courts of the Lord
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God
Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house
And the swallow a nest where she may lay her young
Even thy altars O Lord of hosts, my king and my God
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house
They will be alway praising thee
The glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us
Prosper thou the work of our hands upon us
O prosper thou our handy work, o prosper thou our handy work.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home
Vaughan Williams closes this anthem by quoting the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” in a powerful musical setting. I love this text “Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home” and I believe these lyrics make this anthem a perfect comment on the observance and celebration of those who have gone to their eternal home. For me, it is a joyful reminder of those saints I have known and loved in my life.
Like all of us, there are many people who have been my saints and angels, both family and friends that come to mind. For some reason, this week, the memory of my friends John and Marion McNickle have been close to me.
I was about twenty-six years old when I was hired as the choral director for First Presbyterian Church in Rogers and I met John and Marion. Marion sang soprano and John was a bass in the church choir. They were both in their early seventy’s, but we quickly became close friends. We shared many meals and took vacations together and I learned so much from the warm hospitality and grace they showed to me as a young man.
They had a home on Beaver lake that John had designed to take advantage of passive solar heat. It was a modern style home full of tall windows and books, and I spent many hours reading in their library room on a day bed. It was also filled with old clocks. One of John’s hobbies was refurbishing clocks. It was magical, that on the hour, every hour, in a duration that covered about six minutes, the house was filled with the sounds of clocks striking throughout the many rooms of the home.
Several other memories leap to my mind about the time I shared with them.
At the end of my first rehearsal with the Presbyterian choir, Marion asked me how old I was and when I told her I was twenty-six, she exclaimed, “Twenty-six! I have clothes older than you!” I also remember having dinner with them the day before Marian was to go to the hospital for hip replacement surgery. After dinner, we often would go for a walk up their long, winding, dirt driveway. I was surprised when Marion walked to the front door, put on her sweater and we stepped out into the autumn evening and she, John, and I took a walk. I remember thinking, this walk must be coming at a great cost of pain to Marion and I admired her tenacity and strength. As I get older, this lesson has become more relevant to me.
My fondest memory of John was the time he called and asked if I would come over and help him hook up a new VCR that he had just purchased. I told him I would be happy to. After dinner, while John and I attached the cables to set up the video player, John asked me if I would like to stay and watch a videotape. It was the movie for which he had specifically acquired the VCR. The movie was The Hutchback of Notre Dame, starring Charles Lawton and Maureen O’Hair. It was a classic film first released in 1939. John told me he had gone to see it in the theater in 1939 and described what a moving experience it was to see this dramatic film. He had not seen the movie since seeing it in 1939. It was so meaningful to me to watch this exquisite film with him and enjoy his memories and experiences from so many years before.
This week, I want to invite you to think about those people in your life who have acted as your saints and angels. Family or friends who have walked with you and shared their wisdom, grace, and love. Though they have died, they live still in heart and memory. Let us remember and be blessed as we prepare for worship on The Feast of All-Saints’ Sunday.
Holy God, we thank you that you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray. We give thanks for those saints you have gifted us with, to teach us and show us the grace of friendship and love. We pray that we may, in turn, show love and strength to those in our lives. That we may live the example of our savior you son, Jesus Christ. We pray this in all your Holy names. AMEN.
Grace & Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.