All Saints and All Souls
This week I was talking to my PhD supervisor who was travelling back to the US for his dad’s funeral. I had offered my condolences of course and some words from Scripture about crying out in lament over our sadness in inevitably losing the people we love: moms, dads, children, grandchildren, cousins, partners, and friends. He replied to me, as most of you will of course know, that he is so busy with the ‘business end’ of death, that he’s not had the time to ‘cry out.’
But cry out he will. As I know so many of you have had occasion to do recently and in the past few years. This Sunday we celebrate All Saints in which we remember the new life that Christ has won for his people not just here in this life, but for eternity. We celebrate those who have gone before us and are now with God after their deaths. And we celebrate this not just as a memory of what has occurred, but as an anticipation of all of our lives with God.
But celebrating all the Saints who have gone before us is more than even this. It’s also part of how we are able to put on the armour of faith, so to speak, or as it’s put elsewhere in Scripture, to gird up our loins, to be able to endure the hard road of being faithful to God in a world that still really doesn’t know or follow God’s ways. To remember and celebrate all those who have gone before us who are now with God, particularly the great Saints of the church, is to remember that acting as Jesus did and so his followers after him, was not easy. Most of the Saints faced tremendous trials: imprisonment, beatings, abuse, torture, the loss of all their possessions, exclusion, loneliness, exceptional loss of those whom they loved dearly, and often times, anxiety, depression, and life-long struggles with physical and mental illnesses.
So one of the things we’re remembering on All Saints is that being a follower of God doesn’t necessarily bring protection from the realities of a world where physical death and suffering, hunger, thirst, sickness, and terrible acts occur. This is important. Too many people through time have confused worldly ideals about what the world should look like, with God’s will.
No, what celebrating All the Saints today reminds us of is that God’s peace came in the Person of Jesus Christ, who, enduring exclusion, hurt, loss, betrayal, torture, suffering, loneliness, and finally death, did not strike back in anger at those who caused these things. He did not lash out in anger, but provided challenge to those whom he judged wrong. He did not strike back at those who hit him, literally or figuratively, but turned the other cheek. He did not act out of fear or out of real betrayal. He did not act out of arrogance or frustration or hurt for doing so would destroy the person on whom he unleashed.
Instead, Jesus revealed to us what it is to be a complete and full human being: humble, kind, gentle, patient, loving enemies and those at whom you’re angry or frustrated. This is a true human life and today, we mark the lives of so many men and women who, through time, have embodied these traits in their lives, giving up all the brokenness within and turning that over to God so that they could give fully of themselves and their gifts to allow others to see God.
One of the most profound gifts of being a priest is hearing the eulogies given by family and friends at funerals and being able to talk to family members about the person who died. I have had occasion to do a few funerals for folks here, and a couple of interments. What always strikes me is this: the way in which people talk about how much that person gave to them or in sad cases, how much that person took away. I don’t mean food, or money, or possessions. I mean how that person supported, challenged, shaped, persisted, endured, made laugh, made welcome, facilitated, gave time, gave hope, held, taught, and transformed the other. The eulogies or discussions always involve stories about visits or events, or moments - often generally insignificant - but which over time, a whole life time, retold by those who were the beneficiaries, reveal a profound knitted together exercise of God’s love that looks like Jesus’s own life. In other words, what I hear, or see, almost painted as a picture, is how much love that person gave away for the sake of building others up. And in this, I see the figure of Jesus deeply within that person whom I just gave a funeral for, or buried.
If I were to summarize the perfect human life that we see in Jesus it is this: love that is given away to other people, for other people, so that they might grow into the people God made them to be. This is what Jesus is really driving at in our Gospel lesson this morning: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” At our very deepest core we are seeking the ideal life with God where there is no more loss, no more mourning, no more weeping, no feelings of separation from God or one another in life or death. In this time as we await God’s return, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesian Church - the pain of our losses, of the ways we struggle and suffer through sickness, through the busy days of work and even retirement, of the disappointments and regrets, of the wishes and hopes and dreams and even joys - God calls us to him over and over.
He does this most profoundly in remembering not just the Saints we celebrate today, but probably moreso for most of us, by remembering all the Souls of our loved ones who have so deeply touched our lives; who gave themselves to us in so many ways, supporting, challenging, comforting, or sometimes, sadly, showing us how, or who not to be. God gave these people to us, and us to them, not just in health, but also in sickness and in death. He gave them to us knowing we are each fragile and finite. He gave them to us so that we might feel love, to know just a taste of the perfection of love that will embrace us at our own deaths. And so in each of our loved ones, although their loss is painful, God reveals himself to us, gives himself to us, and so girds us up that we might give ourselves as a window to God for others. AMEN.