Family Liturgies

The Crowd of Witnesses: A Family Liturgy for All Saints

photo–by Jennifer Mills-Knutsen

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1
“As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” (Good News Translation)

Points of Conversation
In churches that follow the liturgical calendar, November 1 is always marked as All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day on November 2. The traditional theology of All Saints Day celebrates the lives of all those who have lived and died within the folds of the church, understood as those who have made peace with Christ and embraced God’s gift of forgiveness. All Souls Day widens the circle to include all souls that have ever lived and breathed upon the earth, acknowledging that they too belong to God.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, people celebrate the Dia de la Muertos, the Day of the Dead, by building altars in their homes or visiting their loved ones buried in local cemeteries, decorating the graves and joining them for a picnic.

How does your family honor loved ones who have died? Do you make an annual pilgrimage to a local cemetery? Do you have pictures on the wall, dating back generations? Do you still make a special recipe from a great-grandmother’s kitchen, or cheer for a particular sports team thanks to a family legacy? Do you have any items in your home that you inherited from someone? Take some time to reflect together on the ways that loved ones who have gone before you still make their presence known in your midst.

If you have recently lost someone, consider taking time to light a candle or share their picture and remember them especially.

Spiritual Practice
Read the scripture from Hebrews 12:1. The writer of Hebrews compares life to a race, and describes those who have come before us as a “crowd of witnesses” who cheer us on as we live our lives.

If you have younger children, take turns running a race in your yard or on the sidewalk or even in the living room. Have one person run as fast and as hard as they can while everyone else cheers them on, then switch until everyone has had a turn (even adults!). If you have older children, talk about times when someone has cheered them on, maybe at a sporting event, graduation, recital or when they were learning a new skill.

Talk about what it feels like to have people cheering you on. Does it help you feel faster or stronger? Does it make you try harder? Does it help you when you feel like quitting? Does it make you feel good, whether you win or lose? Do they show you what to do or where to go if you get confused?

Connect this feeling to the scripture. If our lives are a race we run, moving toward God with every step, how does it feel to imagine a whole crowd of witnesses encouraging us? People who have lived before us—whether they are relatives, part of our church family, or famous saints—are like a cheering crowd, urging us on in our faith lives. They want us to keep going, to keep growing closer to God, to feel hope when we are discouraged, to feel companionship when we are lonely, to feel peace when we are distressed. Revisit the stories you told of loved ones who are still with you in recipes, photos and memories, and together imagine them by your side in life, offering encouragement to you in your
faith. Name the saints in your life who will be cheering you in your journey of faith, and identify for your children people they may or may not have met who belong to their crowd of witnesses.

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for the gift of all those people who have run this race before us. Thank you for their example and their encouragement. Help us to remember all these saints that have come before us, and to be inspired by their faith. Strengthen us to run our race the best we can every day. Amen.

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