Role models in ‘cloud of witnesses’ shared lessons

On Sunday, Christians all over the world will once again celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and those on earth.

Our practice of celebrating this occasion begins on the evening of Oct. 31 — All Hallows Eve — better known as Halloween in the secular world.

My experience always has been to celebrate on the first Sunday in November.

While All Saints’ Sunday is a time to remember all the special saints who have completed their journey on earth, tomorrow during our worship services, we will pause to remember those who have gone to be with the Lord within the last 12 months.

The liturgist reads the person’s name. A candle is lit and a bell is rung as the minds of the living are flooded with pleasant memories of the deceased. It is a special and emotional time.

As a pastor, my heart goes out to those who continue to grieve the loss of their loved one. I know personally what it feels like because my wife of 41 years died in 2013. While I sobbed liked a baby when Brenda’s name was read and her picture shown, it was a cathartic moment for me. I believe our observance is meaningful to all who have experienced it.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed the celebration of All Saints’ Day was extremely important. In a journal entry from Nov. 1, 1767, Wesley calls it a “festival I truly love.” On the same day the following year, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The next year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

When I was a pastor in another denomination, we never observed such occasions. I am blessed that since I have become a United Methodist pastor we emphasize this special time.

The author of Hebrews writes, “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” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

The saints in my life, which have included my Sunday School teachers, church leaders, and pastors have pointed me in the direction of following the pioneer and perfecter of my faith. Throughout my life, in times of struggle and in good times, they have encouraged me to keep the faith and to grow in my faith.

They nurtured me as a child. They groomed me for leadership as a young adult. They set the foundation for me to eventually answer the call to full-time ministry.

To this day, I continue to be surrounded by saints, both living and dead, who guide me along in my spiritual journey.

Who are your saints? Listen to them!

Mark Wesler is pastor of New Palestine United Methodist Church. This weekly column is written by local clergy members. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.