Commemorating the Saints

JSBSatan’s always working to confuse our theology. If he can’t knock us off the horse on one side, he’ll try to knock us off the other. He’s done a really great job when it comes to commemorating the saints.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say: “We’re Lutherans! We don’t commemorate saints! That’s too catholic!”

But that would be to fall off the horse on the other side.

Now, of course we don’t want to imitate the Roman error whereby we seek the so-called “merits of the saints.” Christ is the world’s Redeemer, the only mediator between God and man. To look to anyone or anything but Christ alone for salvation is crass idolatry.

But that doesn’t mean we forget about the saints entirely. After all, we believe “…in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” don’t we?

As Lutherans, in accord with the Church’s faith in every generation, we believe, teach, and confess that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to their calling (Augsburg Confession, 21).

Remember, a saint isn’t someone we go to in prayer so we can get a little extra favor in God’s eyes or to get help in selling our house. A saint is one who has been made holy. This is what the Holy Spirit has done for you in Holy Baptism, where the flood of Christ’s own blood has made you holy, right, and good before your heavenly Father (LSB, 596; st. 4).

We remember and give thanks to God for the lives of the saints every Sunday in the Divine Service when we gather at the Lord’s table with “angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven.” Who is that company of heaven but the saints?

After we commune, we sing the hymn of Saint Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”). Next, we pray that the love of Christ would not only fill our own cup but runneth over, that we would live “in fervent love toward one another.” This is a prayer that we would regard and treat one another as saints. As St. Paul says,

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).

To despise the commemoration of saints is to sever our communion in Christ, to forget how indispensable are the other members of Christ’s Body. When we confess our faith in the communion of saints, we confess the vitality of our fellowship with one another, both with the saints who live here with Christ on earth and the saints who live with Him in heaven. Forgetting about the saints is just as bad as seeking their merits. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is just as bad as drowning the baby in the bathtub.

Besides this, we remember and give thanks for the lives of the saints each year on All Saints’ Day and, at least at Zion and Immanuel, whenever a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday. This year, the festival of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr falls on a Sunday (October 23rd). If you have good devotional resources like The Treasury of Daily Prayer, the daily devotions include writings and prayers pertaining to the saints so you can remember and give thanks to God for them even when their festivals and commemorations aren’t observed in church. There’s also this gem by William Weedon, which provides historical sketches of the saints listed in Lutheran Service Book, along with devotional readings, prayers, and hymn stanzas.

Today is the commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor (July 28). Remembering saints like Bach is good, because it reminds us that in addition to the gift of salvation in Word and Sacrament, God also blesses His creation with beauty through gifts like music. Bach wrote,

“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” 

While Bach’s statement is certainly true of music, it’s also true in a much broader sense: the aim and final end of everything you do should be none other the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. This means all the work you do is either A) holy; your faith active in love for the benefit of others or B) sin; the work of Satan, which dishonors God and results in a troubled conscience.

Bach ended many of his manuscripts with the abbreviation SDG (for Soli Deo Gloria, which is Latin for “to God alone be glory”). Not a bad symbol to impress upon all our work, too.


God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we thank you for the life and service of Johann Sebastian Bach and all Your servants who make art and music in the service of the Gospel for Your people that we might better know You and Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Gather us all in the world to come where together we may evermore sing praises to You in the kingdom of Heaven. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (source).

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