The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Today is the eve of All Saints’ Day, also called, All Hallows Eve – which morphs into Halloween. An infestation of witches, vampires, avatars and only God knows what else landed in our neighborhood last evening – demanding candy to keep us from being harmed. One creature looked like a combination of zombie and Satan. So, I asked, “And who are you?” A voice responded, “I am a candidate for the U.S. Senate.” I gave him all my candy, begged him to leave me alone, ran into the house, and locked the door. I was terrified.
All Souls’ or All Faithful Departed Day follows All Saints’ Day. Remembering loved ones is important for in the church – it’s a two-three day event for us. As early as 270 CE the church commemorated martyrs. Then Apostles and other spiritual heroes known to the wider church were added. That became All Saints Day. The church wanted to remember other saints, those who have touched our lives and shaped us in some way – family, friends. So we have All Faithful Departed or All Souls Day on November 2nd each year. Put all of this together, now you know all the company of heaven who forever sing with us when we celebrate the Eucharist.
A prayer in the Burial Office suggests our saints continue the journey: “Grant that increasing in knowledge and love of thee, he/she may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service.” Our work on earth carries forward and our growth in faith is ongoing beyond this earthly existence. The candles we light honor our loved ones’ ongoing life in God, bring them into our conscious thoughts and memory, and signify Christ as the Light that has broken the power of darkness and death.
Some of us will celebrate the holidays with fresh grief and loss this year. A time of joy for some is no longer joyful for others. New memories, gatherings, and traditions replace former ones. Celebration, joy and laughter are hard to find. You keep a chair or place empty as a reminder. Christmas cards are too much to deal with. Shopping, Christmas decorations, singing Carols bring tears. And as days shorten people who grieve are more vulnerable to depression and loneliness. They need our care and support, and to know it’s normal. Expressing grief and feeling pain help us heal.
Others, who face first holidays without a loved one, need these days to take their minds off the loss and grief. They press on hoping to stay busy in the seasons as a way of lessening their sadness. They are beginning to believe their lives will go on – different maybe, but they will live through the pain. Complex emotions still lie just below the surface. Reliving memories, stories, and laughter keep their loved ones present. Talking and being with others, laughing and crying help them accept their loss. There’s no right way to go through the holidays – no guidebook, no steps to work through and be completed. We grieve differently. Some deal with their anger or another emotion. They have been told we go through stages, and at the end we’re all better. They check one off the list, only to find it’s come back. That’s normal. We don’t get over grief and loss, and we don’t pass through stages and are finished. We learn to live with grief, loss. Where we are on the healing journey is the place we need to be. So be gentle with yourselves and each other. We are learning to live with these who have died in a different way.
So we gather to commemorate death and life. In everyday life we push death back. Death seems so final. We tend to forget God speaks the final word. To help us, remember, the prophet Isaiah lifts the curtain separating earth and heaven, showing us a beautiful picture that can give us hope. It’s a banquet table. God gathers all people for a feast of rich foods and fine wines. And Isaiah tells us that God destroys death forever, including our sorrow and tears. This is a foretaste of the salvation and hope we await.
Jesus reminds us God has conquered death. We need have no fear – just trust. Jesus’ resurrection has become a sign of ours to come. Actually we have already died and been raised to eternal life. That’s called baptism – marked as Christ’s forever. Thus we can live confidently with this hope in us. Yet what God will finally do lies ahead. We’re on our way, but haven’t arrived. In the mean time we have work to do to shape our lives and world more like the heaven God will finally bring. God’s final word is everlasting life. We place our loved ones, our pain, and death into God’s hands. God heals and restores. Don’t try to figure it out. Just savor these mysteries and the hope we have and will be given.