by Lynne Baab
The small group Bible study gathered in the church library. As I sat down in a comfortable arm chair, I heard a woman ask the associate pastor a question about “The Church’s One Foundation,” a hymn we had sung the previous Sunday in worship.
She said, “There’s this weird part of the hymn that I don’t understand. What does it mean?” The woman read the words from the hymnbook, with “she” referring to the church: “Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”
The associate minister gave a brief answer, saying that “those whose rest is won” means “people in heaven.”
I was in my late twenties and he was quite a bit older. I was just starting my seminary studies and he was an ordained minister. However, I was so sure I could have given a better answer than he did!
At that point, as a young adult, I had an abstract conception of our oneness with people in heaven, and it meant a lot to me. More than thirty years have passed since that day, and I have experienced losses of people dear to me. My two grandmothers were models of faith to me, and I’m so grateful I can imagine them in heaven. I’m so grateful I can feel an ongoing connection to them.
A very close friend died when we were both 41, and I know she is dancing in the presence of the God she loved her whole life. I think about her often, someone “whose rest is won,” even though it feels like she was really too young to need rest. She and I are still a part of the same body of Christ, even if I am still on earth and she is in heaven. We have “mystic sweet communion.”
On All Saints Day, November 1, we remember all the saints, not just the ones who have done something dramatic. We remember ordinary people who love and serve God, saints still living on earth or resting in God’s presence. I encourage you on this day to think about the people who have shaped your journey of faith, people you met in person, in the Bible, or in a book, people living today and people who lived in the recent or distant past. Pray some thankfulness prayers for them, and relish the fact that you have “mystic sweet communion” with them, wherever they are.
I think part of why I wanted to give a longer answer to that woman’s question so many years ago is that from childhood I was steeped in the hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” I knew it by heart, and more than anything else in my childhood, it inspired me to want to love and serve God. The author, Lesbia Lesley Scott (1898-1986), wrote hymns for her three children during the 1920s. She composed this one for All Saints Day, November 1.
- I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.2. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus’ sake
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.3. They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.