How Do We Remember God?

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on November 2, 2014 (All Saint’s Day).

The short answer to this question was remembering God by “joining the saints in worship, that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before us.”[1] In other words, “When we gather for worship we are not alone. In liturgy the memory of those who have said the words and prayed the prayers and sung the hymns and heard the texts comes to life.”

Another answer was remembering “people . . . who had passed on the faith” to us. This was done after the sermon by hearing “the names of those from among us who have joined the communion of saints in the past year, a roll call of part of the great cloud of witnesses. They are names dear to many of us.”

The sermon also saw “All Saints’ Day . . . as the church’s collective exercise in memory-making. It began in the 8th century when Pope Gregory III declared that henceforth the first day of November would be set aside on the church calendar to offer prayers for ‘the holy apostles and…all saints, martyrs and confessors throughout the world … who are at rest.’”

“In that time there were no rules as to how one became a saint; local bishops simply conferred sainthood as they chose. Every day was another saint’s day, and it varied from town to town. The Pope wanted more order, so he declared November 1st as the day that all saints would be remembered and venerated.”

Protestants, on the other hand, “rejected the notion that some of God’s people were more holy than others and, therefore, to be venerated. Any representation of saints was deemed heretical; in 1535 John Calvin ordered all sculptures and paintings of saints in the churches of Geneva to be destroyed. The only true saints were all the followers of Jesus.”

The “basic idea that took root in the Reformation still holds: we view the ‘communion of saints’ as the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ‘priesthood of all believers.’ When we sing “For all the saints, who from their labors rest,” we sing of all those who loved God and served God in this life and have gone on before us.”[2]

The sermon was closed with this beautiful prayer by George MacLeod, a Scottish minister who re-established the Abbey on the island of Iona, in John Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God [Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2014]:

  • ‘Be Thou, triune God, in the midst of us//as we give thanks for those who have gone//from the sight of earthly eyes.                                           They, in Thy nearer presence, still worship with us//in the mystery of the one family in heaven and on earth.                                                           If it be Thy holy will, tell them how we love them,//and how we miss them,//and how we long for the day’                                                              when we shall meet with them again.”


[1] Hebrews 12:1-2: “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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

[2] A prior post covered some of this ground in my own “musings” about saints.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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