Advent is Coming (pt 1)
The first time I saw an Advent wreath, I wasn’t interested. At the time I was a Gen-X nineteen-year-old. Everything was dumb, except my favorite music. When our church's children’s minister introduced the Advent wreath during the children’s sermon one morning, I thought, “No way.” Since then, I’ve learned the practice of Advent. It has been a slow education of living and praying in my adopted Anglican tradition over the last twenty years.
As I came into the Anglican Way, Advent was one of the last of the liturgical seasons to make sense to me. Maybe you're learning Advent or, like me, still learning Advent through practice. Perhaps you share questions I've had. What is Advent? And what are seasons, anyway? How do they work?
Those questions are important. Let’s start with the question about seasons. We'll get to Advent later. But we'll tackle seasons first. And I'll begin looking at seasons with a focus on their building blocks, days. Seasons are made up of days.
There are ordinary days and special days. One particularly special day is All Saints’ Day, November 1. This is a special day toward the end of each church year, usually about three or four weeks from the beginning of the Advent season. If you're new to the Church calendar, the church year begins with Advent. So All Saints' Day serves as an annual reminder that Advent is coming. All Saints’ Day also encapsulates Advent in a special way.
All Saints' Day gives us a picture of our destiny in Christ as radiant saints. We get to this saintly radiance through the salvation that Jesus accomplished and makes real in our lives. We also get to sainthood by substantial transformation away from our sinful habits and ways of life and toward the holiness that Christ shares and shapes in us. This transformation will not be complete until Jesus returns in triumphant glory. And that's what Advent is about. Advent begins our church year by looking to end, to Jesus’ return in glory to judge the living and dead.
In a similar way, All Saints’ Day celebrates the victory of Jesus in and through his holy ones, or saints. Historically, the saints most highly celebrated on All Saints’ were the martyrs, the witnesses to Jesus who died for their faith. So All Saints’ serves the purpose of promoting our ongoing transformation and growth in holiness by practicing the faith, love, and courageous goodness of the celebrated saints (Heb. 10:24).
Our All Saints’ celebration also echoes what is in the Bible, especially the “hall of faith” chapter of the book of Hebrews chapter 11. You could say that All Saints’ Day is Hebrews chapter 11 expanded into the New Testament era and then set to worship. All Saint’s calls us to faith and faithfulness in view of assured victory in Christ. This call to faithfulness and assurance of full salvation resounds in the prayer for All Saints Day.
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
For the reformation minded among us—myself included—I’m happy to point out how grace and faith are present in this prayer. Grace appears at the beginning, Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son. God acts in the lives real people who belong to him, you have knit together your elect. That’s grace. And in the action of God's grace we we ask for more grace, Give us grace.
That prayer for grace is an act of faith in response to grace. And here’s the anticipated fruit of this act of faith, so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Obedience and joy are the fruit of faith and grace. That's a takeaway and treasure from this All Saints' Day practice of prayer.
That’s also a full spiritual meal for one day! Good thing we are invited to pray it twice, once on November 1st and again on All Saints’ Sunday (the Sunday that follows All Saints’ Day) . Not all days are as packed and powerful as All Saints’ Day. That’s a good thing. We need ordinary days to saturate in the steady grace and big ideas of a given season, like Advent. In the next post, we’ll look at the rhythm and spiritual grammar of seasons. And then we’ll look at Advent as we prepare for its dawning.