Luke 6:20-26 (27-36)
As a teenager I discovered the glories of Anglo-Catholicism as it was practiced in some of the great Canadian Anglo-Catholic parishes. What I saw and heard and smelt was a far cry from St. Mary’s Church, Regina where cassock, surplice and stole were the order of the day, and where candles were something you put on the dining room table or on birthday cakes. As you can guess, I was an instant convert. I loved it all, and the higher the better. I soon mastered the art of crossings and genuflections and paid close attention to the liturgical cycle of feasts and fast. On my travels I scoured the back of churches for fascinating little tracts with such exotic titles as “Why Candles”; or “Why Reservation”; or “Call Me Father”. Much to my delight there was a whole set of tracts in the “ Why . . .” series and I soon had them all for my constant reference and edification.
Perhaps my greatest find however came in the back of a church in England where I purchased a tiny blue covered paperback manual of Anglo-catholic devotions. It was full of things which my heart and soul had craved: the Angelus and Rosary, brief forms of daily prayers, and, what was even better, a number of litanies including a litany of saints and a litany for the dying and the Office of the Dead. I have long since lost, or misplaced or given away that little book, but the world it opened up for me remains with me to this day.
It was in that little book, I think, that I first fell in love with what it so marvellously called the Month of the Holy Dead which begins with All Hallows’ Even, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, and ends, as it does now, with the Feast of Christ the King.
Now I freely admit today that what I probably fell in love with was the new and novel and exotic. But what I continue to love is the stark reality and the hint of glory that these days present to us. But isn’t that what falling in love is all about? We are initially attracted to someone or something, but the abiding love comes only after you discover the reality, and sometimes the harsh reality, behind the appearance, while still remembering that hint of glory.
These three days, this ‘November Triduum’ of All Hallows’ Even, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days hold for us the same stark reality as does the Easter Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. That reality is that death is real. Just as we look death in the face during the Easter Triduum, during this November Triduum, death comes knocking at our doors. It may come in the guise of cute children dressed up in all manner of costumes, begging candy from you or threatening tricks, but our pre-Christian and Christian ancestors in the faith would recognize Hallowe’en as that night when you stared at, and stared down, death.
Most of us live far removed from death. Our culture, captivated by the young, the fit and the beautiful, is a death denying one. But sooner or later death comes, sometimes quite literally, knocking at the door for all of us. In the last year, death has come knocking at the door of over 1100 families of service women and men in this county, and at the door of countless more families in Iraq and Afghanistan . Death comes knocking at the door of innumerable homes all over the world, and especially in Africa , where AIDS is an unwelcome guest. Sooner or later the harsh reality is that death will come knocking on the door of each one here.
By now you are probably thinking, “boy, James is REALLY depressing today!” But I don’t mean to be depressing, for just as we know the answer to Good Friday is not despair but Easter, so the answer to Hallowe’en is not fear but All Saints’ and All Souls’. Easter, All Saints’ and All Souls’ each remind us that we can stare death in the face and be triumphant.
The promise of triumph which we celebrate today in the feast of All Saints’ is for all of us, not some collection of stained glass perfect people but rather for those who have lived lives of hope, or even just attempted to do so. It is for all of us who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to. The promise of All Saints’ Day is for all of us, not just for those men in the windows above us.
All Saints’ Day is not a celebration of perfection, but the fulfillment of a promise made to us by Christ in our baptisms. Paul reminds us in today’s epistle that “in him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” This letter is addressed to us, not just to the believers in Ephesis for in baptism, when we were signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever, we entered into that promise whereby we may know and receive the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
By entering into the promise of that glorious inheritance in baptism, we stare death in the face, and stare it down, for glory, not death is our final destination, just as the Empty Tomb and Ascension and not the Cross is the sign of God’s power to triumph over sin and death. God’s will for us is glory, not death, just as his will for Christ was glory and not the Cross.
So today we celebrate all those who have claimed their place in glory by living lives of hope and faith, or even just attempting to, and we make that claim for ourselves as well.
Just as we make that claim for ourselves, so too can we make it for others on All Souls’ Day, for while the promises of God are for all people, they are also for specific people: people whose names we know and whose lives have touched us. On All Souls’ Day we claim this promise of glory for people with names, and addresses, and telephone numbers. We claim this promise of glory for parents and siblings and children, for friends and neighbours and even our enemies. We claim this promise of glory for all who have lived lives of hope and faith, and even, dare I say, for those who failed to. We claim the promise of glory for all “whom we love but see no longer,” for even in death God’s love continues to heal, and reconcile and forgive and restore because God “desireth not the death of a sinner but rather that …they might live.”
On All Souls’ Day we claim the promise of glory name by name, name by name. We claim that promise of glory for Carol and Bev, Charlie and Mavis, Wes and Jessie, Florence and Adam, James, Robert, Bob and Frederick and countless others for they, like the nameless saints we remember today were claimed by Christ in baptism, just as were we.
There is an old evangelical saying: “name it and claim it”, and that is what this November Triduum is all about. We stare into the face of death each time death comes knocking on our door but we know we can stare it down, and stare it through for we have seen the vision of glory that is beyond death. We have seen the vision of glory that is beyond the cross. And today we name and claim that vision of glory, for the countless saints who have lived in all times and in all places, for those whom we love but see no longer, and for ourselves. We name and claim the vision of glory for the faithful, and even the faithless, for the hopeful, and even the hopeless.
I came to love these days, long ago when they were foreign, and novel and exotic. But now I love them because they are about people whom I love and about the promise of glory I share with them. Sure, these days are about the harsh reality of death, a reality I now know only too well, but they are also about the surety of glory promised to all whom God loves.
When death comes knocking on your door tonight, or any night, stare it down and claim your glory, and join the saints who include all those whom you have loved, but see no longer, and who now are at rest in glory.
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