In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on All Souls’, the more somber–but deeply important–sequel to the more celebratory All Saints’ Day.
Dear friends in Christ,
Today our church observes the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls’ Day. Yesterday we celebrated the great feast of All Saints’ Day. While yesterday was about the great heroes of the faith, known to the whole church, today is about all those faithful Christians who have died without acknowledgement by the whole church. Yesterday was about St. Francis and St. Mary; today is about dear departed Uncle Frank and Grandma Mary.
Christ has redeemed all his followers, so what’s the difference? Why do we have two commemorations? The first one is usually raucous–we are, after all, celebrating great heroes who have triumphed, whose discipleship is literally legendary. Today’s second feast is often more somber. These are people close to us. We grieve because we experience loss, and, sometimes, because we grieve on behalf of those who have no loved ones to weep.
Photo by flickr user Russ2009 / Creative Commons
Celebrating All Souls’ Day was rejected in the Reformation, because corruption arose around a cult of Masses for the Dead. More recently, we have restored All Souls’ Day without its corruption. But many people in our church prefer to skip over this second commemoration. Why? I’m not sure I can fully answer that, but I have some ideas.
Our culture is allergic to death. We attend “Celebrations of Life” instead of funerals. We cover up the dirt at graveside services, so that no one has to contemplate the finality of placing a body in the ground. We can’t even talk about death, preferring euphemisms like “passed” and “lost.” So it makes sense we’d keep the happy feast day and jettison the one that asks us to weep a bit, to acknowledge our sorrow at the loss of those close to us, to ordinary Christians around the world, and to those who die in the faith unmourned.
Of course, death is a very natural part of our human experience. To grieve in faith is to find God in the midst of difficult places. To seek faith in a better realm even when confronted with the difficulty of our present is good work for a Christian. And we must also remember that death is the necessary precursor to resurrection.
Make no mistake about it. Death is lousy. But even and especially there we find God. Today, I invite you to mourn the death of those whom you love. Some tears are OK. In the end, we know that God wipes away all our tears and God’s love fills the universe. Meanwhile, we sorrow at those whom we love but see no longer.
Today’s readings include these words from the third chapter of Wisdom: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.”