Today we celebrate All Souls Day. We ‘celebrate’? How can we celebrate when shortly we shall be remembering by name before God our loved ones who have died, and whom we so miss?
‘Behold, I tell you a mystery! We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible.’ Those amazing, thrilling words from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I can never read them without hearing Handel’s Messiah ringing in my ears! And they are words which tell us just what it is that we are celebrating today. We are celebrating what lies at the very heart of our faith as Christians. Jesus truly died, and yet was raised to life by God. And all who have faith in Jesus, although we too will die, will also be raised to life by God. Paul goes on to proclaim in ringing terms, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The promise and hope of resurrection, of new life, IS our gospel as Christians. It seems to me that so much in life points to this. Just as winter leads to spring, so death and resurrection, loss and hope, seem to penetrate the very fabric of life itself.
I have always loved these two days, All Saints and All Souls. They evoke something deep within me, that I often have difficulty putting into words. This is especially true as I get older. Somewhere, deep in my soul, I feel as if I am letting out a great sigh, not so much of contentment, although I am content, but of consent, because these two days put into words, what I believe to be true in the very depths of my being.
The history of these two days is actually quite fascinating. It takes us from the earliest days of the faith to the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, from the Pantheon in Rome to the trenches of France. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have attempted to put into words not simply what we know from experience, but what we know in the very depths of our being, to be true.
What we know from experience is that death is real. Yes, we do our best to deny it, delay it, and pretend it didn’t happen. We mask it with make-up and hide it away with polite euphemisms. Yet in the end we cannot outrun it, and like Jesus, can only weep when faced with it. Once however, our tears are dry, we are left trying to put into words another reality: having lived and loved on earth, do the dead continue to live and love in that place where they can no longer be seen?
For some the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Death is the ultimate disaster because it is the end of all things. All that is left are our memories, like the lingering scent of someone’s cologne. Anything else is wishful thinking.
For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus challenges the notion that death is the ultimate disaster, for in Jesus, life is changed, not ended, and death becomes not the end, but a door, not a wall, but a gate, not the end, but a new beginning. It is this which we proclaim on these two days, as we put into words our belief in the intercommunion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ.
We do so, not as wishful thinkers denying, delaying, and pretending that death does not happen. We do so with the stink of death in our nostrils. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord already there is a stench because he has been dead four days,” or, as the King James Bible puts it, “Lord … he stinketh.” She says this, having just made her great confession of faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Martha’s great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, is an affirmation that the long-awaited messianic age, when the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, [and] the poor have good news brought to them, has arrived, with the coming of Jesus into the world.
In the face of so much contradictory evidence, such a claim is bold, brash, and incredibly audacious. Yet that is the claim we make as Christians. Evidence to the contrary, these are the very things we see happening today. The blind do receive their sight, the lame do walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf do hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. If these are not true, then Jesus is not who Martha claimed him to be, and we of all people are to be pitied, for if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
And we make this claim, not for ourselves alone, but for all those whom we love, but see no longer. And that is the crux of these two days. We are making a bold, brash, and incredibly audacious claim, not simply for ourselves, but for countless women and men who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to, in ages past.
Like Martha, we too confess that [Jesus is] the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. In making that confession we say something specific about the dead. We boldly, brashly, and with incredible audacity claim that the dead are raised to life. This does not deny the reality of death. After all, even Lazarus stinketh.
Such audacity claims for the dead, and for us, that death is not a disaster, nor a wall, nor the end. It claims that death is a door, a gate, and a new beginning.
And so, we come to these two days, All Saints’ and All Souls’. While the stink of death is in our nostrils, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body. In the face of overwhelming grief, whether it be from COVID, or the trenches of France, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body. When someone we love dies, at a great age, or a young age, ripe in years, or full of unrealized promise, we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body.
I love these two days, not because I am a romantic, lost in wishful thinking, pretending that death is not real, but because I am a realist, who has smelt death. I am a realist who has smelt death, and who with Martha knows Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world, even while someone I love, but see no longer stinketh.
The world stinks right now, and the answer to that stench is not wishful thinking. The answer to the stench is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world, who cries out in the face of all the stench and grief of the world, “Take away the stone … Lazarus, come out! … Unbind him, and let him go.”
Today and tomorrow, as we remember the countless saints and souls, known and unknown, who have lived lives of faith, or simply tried to, we do so with the echo Martha’s confession, and the sound of Jesus’ command, ringing in our hearts, as we proclaim boldly, brashly, and with incredible audacity, in the face of all the stench, I believe in the resurrection of the body, and once more Lazarus emerges from his tomb, and we take from him the rags of death.
I love these two days, because somewhere deep in my soul, I breathe out a long sigh of consent, as I say once again, I believe in the resurrection of the body.
Solemnity or Major Feast Day: All Saints’ Day (Transferred)
 John 11: 35
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979, page 382
 Episcopal Church, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1997, page 410.
 John 11: 39
 John 11: 27
 Luke 7: 22
 1 Corinthians 15: 14 – 19
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, page 504
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing Incorporated, page 96
 John 11: 39, 43, 44
Feast of All the Faithful Departed: All Souls’ Day
There is an old evangelical saying that comes to mind each year at this time: name it, and claim it. The idea is that you name some virtue, or aspect of God, claim it as yours, and live it as a reality. The idea is to name something, like God’s love for you, to claim it as yours, and then to live, not as if it were true, but live in the reality of its truth. Without using this name it and claim it phraseology, Father Benson uses the sentiment when he reminds us that we are to live … as those who have been with Jesus. He doesn’t tell us to live as if we have been with Jesus, but to live in the present reality of that relationship.
For me, All Souls’ Day is one of those occasions when we are invited to name and claim something, not for ourselves this time, but for others. It’s a bold move, because we are naming and claiming nothing less than the healing, redeeming, and sanctifying love of God, not for ourselves, but for those we love, but see no longer. We do this, not as if what we say in the Creeds is true, but living in the truth of the Creeds, where we proclaim I believe … in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What we are doing today is claiming those very things: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We claim them, not for nameless entities, not in a general, universal way, but for specific people who we love. Note, we name and claim these things, not for people whom we loved once upon a time, but for people who we still love, but see no longer.
Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, John 5:24-27
Today we celebrate All Souls. This feast was added in the tenth century to remember all the dead, not simply those deemed notable saints down the centuries, and to particularly remember deceased family and friends.
We remember the dead with thanksgiving: for how they touched us, for who they were and are to and for us, for relationship, influence, nurture, and the gift of their life. These “whom we love but see no longer.”[i]
We remember the dead with confidence. As in the Letter to the Thessalonians: We do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” And from Isaiah, God will “swallow up death forever. … and wipe away tears from all faces.”
We remember the dead with expectation. Today’s gospel says: “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” We each die broken and incomplete. We need and receive more beyond the grave. The dead will live, not simply awake but continue to grow and heal.