We associate O When the Saints Go Marching In with joyful, jazz funeral processions in places like New Orleans, and I imagine most of us only know the opening verse… O Lord, I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in. The hymn actually has 12 verses, and it reads like the Book of Revelation, filled with apocalyptic images of the end times when God will be fully revealed and the people of God will stream into worship with endless praise before the throne of heaven.
One of those verses speaks to the reason why the first Sunday of November at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church is a high holy day:
We are traveling in the footsteps
Of those who’ve gone before
But we’ll all be reunited
And then a new world is in store.
This coming Sunday Fauré’s Requiem will be woven through our worship service leading our praise to God for the promise of resurrection. I will bring our Reformation sermon series to a close with the last of the five solas, To the Glory of God Alone. And when we gather around the communion table we will give thanks by naming the saints of the BMPC congregation who have died in the last year. We are indeed traveling in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before.
As I write these words on this All Saints Day, I am in the very place where the saints who nurtured me in faith made the most important commitments of their lives. I am attending a Board of Trustees meeting at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va. My father came to this campus fresh out of college in 1931, and at his graduation, the seminary’s president asked him to stay and serve as his assistant. The administrative leadership of this institution became my father’s ministry. He fell in love with a student, 10 years younger than himself, at the Presbyterian School for Christian Education across the street. I am the youngest of Duke and Mary Winston Norfleet’s six children. With her master’s degree in Christian Education, my mother wrote church school curriculum and children’s books for our denomination. They loved their family and the church, and were deeply committed to this seminary because it serves the church.
This coming Sunday, I will be giving thanks to God for my parents, and for my husband Larry’s loving and faithful parents, for the good church members who made and kept vows at our baptisms, and the next generation of friends who made promises at our children’s baptisms. And I will be mindful that I have the privilege of serving BMPC with its amazing history and mission because of the saints who have gone before.
I invite you to come to worship this Sunday mindful of the saints who have instilled in you a love of God and commitment to service and thankful that your footsteps are making a way for other followers.