With each pang of the bell, a name is heard. A name of a person who once lived, who once walked in other people’s lives, a person who laughed, cried, rejoiced, and grieved. A person who was loved, who left a mark on the lives of many, maybe even someone who left marks on your own life. With each pang of the bell, they are remembered, they are missed, they are loved, and they are remembered as those who have come from the great tribulation. People who were not perfect, who bore marks of their own, scars, and dawned rags upon their shoulder that were worn from a life of suffering and carrying their crosses. Lives filled with failures and hurts. They wear their tears on their cheeks like tattoos imprinted upon their faces, faces that bear the evidence of lives spent toiling in their labor. With each pang of the bell, we remember those faithful souls who fell asleep in Jesus. These are the people for Whom the Bell Tolls.
All Saints Day marks the beginning of the end of the church year, and so we enter into the last times. A focus on the culmination of all things, when Christ returns. Yet, today we are once again faced with our mortality, as we toll the bell for those dearly departed in the last year, but also for all the dear Saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
The past year has seen the loss of many lives, taken too soon. Their labors were not in vain. “Who are they? You know. They are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” They all have names, they all have faces, and now they all have traded in their rags for white robes, they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They have earned their reward, their tear-stained cheeks have been renewed, they now rest from their labors, and await the culmination of all things.
Yet All Saints is not only a day to remember those family members and friends, but also to remember the saints that they have joined. This reality is one of great comfort and one that brings joy and for me, astonishment. It is the reminder that the church is bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, and it is bigger than Our Savior. Those dearly departed have joined the ranks of those Saints we all know, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Peter, and Paul. St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, CFW Walther, and so many others who have gone before us. On All Saints Day, the bell tolls for the entire church in unity, as the saints walk together in their white robes.
Yet, All Saints Day is not only a day where we look back and remember those faithful dearly departed saints of the church. We also look here and now. Who are they? The people here in this place? The ones sitting in these pews? They are the ones going through the great tribulation, they are the ones who come ragged and weary, broken and shamed, mourning and grieving, hurting and burdened, they are the ones who come carrying their crosses with tear-stained cheeks bearing the marks of their toil. They are you, who come bringing broken relationships, the trials of parenthood, the loneliness of life, the fear of the future, the complications of navigating school. You, who bring transitions and all sorts of baggage that wears on you day in and day out, and you strive to walk faithfully but find yourself stumbling and falling. You, who are scraped, bruised, and hurting. You settle into your pews, and you take your seats, wondering what words of comfort you will hear today. Yet, you are snapped out of your pondering by a sound… The pang of a tolling bell. It calls you; it invites you, it bids you come. It tolls for you. Come, and behold the Lamb that was slain, Christ the crucified one. Be washed in the blood of the Lamb. But not only wash, feast, take the cup, and drink, be strengthened. For your toil has not ended, but continues.