Death does not winPhoto by Holger Motzkau
First point: There was wide disagreement in Jesus' day about the afterlife. Many people aren't aware of that fact but it's where we need to start. For example, one group called the Sadducees (i.e., basically rich priests) didn't even believe in an afterlife at all. Other groups were all over the map: you went to heaven (Alexandrian Jews), you went to heaven and were later resurrected (some Pharisees ), you just ceased to exist but were resurrected (other Pharisees ), and so on.
LifeJesus of Nazareth taught that there was a life after death. For the Sadducees, who only used the five books of Moses as their Bible, he demonstrated it from a passage they had apparently never considered. When he and two criminals were being tortured to death by crucifixion Jesus comforted one of them by promising on his authority as Messiah, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise," (Luke chapter 23 verse 43).
"The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die,” (John 11.25-26) Jesus said. Death does not win, life does. The question of the day at every human death is, "Do you believe this?"
So Jesus here and other places taught that, ideally, after your death you are a.) still alive, b.) with him, and c.) in a place called Paradise. Of course, everyone knows there are a lot more questions that this doesn't answer ("Do you mean everybody? Could Hitler-like people go to Paradise? Is Paradise the same as Heaven? What about the resurrection? etc., etc."), but we'll go into that in future posts. I wanted to get us to this point so we could talk about All Saints Day.
TriumphantSo say you are a faithful follower of Jesus of Nazareth (which is basically what that word "saint" means, although in most of the Christian movement it is often reserved for heroically faithful followers) who reaches the end of your time on earth. You step over from the human life you've been living into Paradise. Jesus is there. Also there, we can logically infer, are all the other faithful followers of Jesus from the past 2000 years. Actually longer than that to judge from that debate with the Sadducees. Your grandma, the great-uncle who vanished in the Bermuda Triangle, and ancestors from AD 1865, 1247, and 321 are all there.
All these people are part of what is called the "Church Triumphant" -- triumphant because they made it! That sad, unfair, often unfulfilling, grinding, and increasingly achy life is over for them. Now they live in a place where God, "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist," (Revelation 21.4).
All Saints Day is to celebrate members of the Christian movement who have been martyred, to remember their accomplishment of remaining faithful to the Messiah through their lives, down to the bitter end. In the late AD 300s Ephrem the Syrian was the first to mention that Christians had a special day to commemorate all of these people. There is actually another day, "All Souls Day" on November 2nd, that celebrates all the rest of the Church Triumphant.
In the ancient Christian poem that this whole site is structured around -- the Apostle's Creed -- these people are mentioned along with all of us. "I believe... in the communion of saints" refers to the awesome reality that Jesus' followers today "are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses," that every last member of the Christian movement from AD 33 through to this very second, in Paradise or on earth, comprise together Jesus' one church -- his Kingdom.