All Saints Sunday
Traditionally, the month of November is the month set aside for remembrance. We begin with the remembrance of those who have gone before us, so November is often called the month of the dead. This tradition stretches back to the pre-Christian era. November is the month when the days begin to get shorter, and the darkness stays around longer. Well, it did until the arrogance of humanity decided it could control time by setting the clocks forward and back.
I am a student of Reformation theology, and there is much to be appreciated in the theological understanding of the Reformers of our faith. But there is much I disagree with, and chief among them is removing the celebration of the seasons from the Liturgical calendar. Now I don’t mean spring and summer and whatnot; no, I mean the Liturgical Seasons that coincide with the actual calendar.
November is the time that the earth begins the cycle of transformation. In our area of the world, the leaves have started to change their color, signifying their death. The harvest is complete or will soon be finished, and the earth will begin its long winter slumber. We can take our cues from what the earth does, and so November becomes the month to celebrate death, much like April becomes the month to celebrate life.
We have just finished what is known as All Hallows Tide. This coincides with the feast of Samhain, the pagan/Christian festival of remembering the dead. The season begins with All Hallows Eve on October 31st. We call this Halloween, which is a very American thing, by the way, but it was the beginning of the season of remembrance.
Following All Hallows Eve comes All Saints Day. On this day, all the saints, those declared by the Church and those not so declared, are remembered. The last of the three days is All Souls Day, when all the faithful departed are commemorated. In our reformed calendar, we combine All Saints and All Souls into one day of commemoration and then move it away from the traditional time of celebration. Keeping with the rhythm of the seasons is essential.
The reason All Hallows Tide falls when it does is that the veil that separates this world from the next becomes very thin this time of year, and by remembering those gone before us, they hear us and know we have not forgotten them. Speak their name into the wind, so they know they are remembered.
I do not believe that heaven is some far-off place where everyone sits around on clouds playing the harp. For me, heaven is another dimension of this world where our energy or our soul goes after our physical body dies. That other dimension is right here with us, and that is what sometimes, we have the feeling that our loved ones are with us.
There is a story that I might have already told about cleaning out my parents’ house after my father died. We had a shop in the basement of their house. It began as my father’s shop, where he would tinker with this and that and where he would create. Then, as he got older and could not easily go up and down stairs, I inherited his shop.
After he died, my task was to pack up the shop and move it to my house. There were a lot of memories in that shop, lots of hours spent learning from my father, and part of him was in every tool. There was this one day; I was at the house by myself in the shop. I was packing things up, and I was growing concerned that I would not have space for everything. I suddenly felt this presence there with me as if a hand was on my shoulder. It was not frightening, just the opposite; in fact, it brought me some peace. I know it was my father, and I know he was there to show me the way and tell me that it would be okay. And you know what, it is okay.
Just as an aside, I had a similar experience not long ago in my shop. I was cleaning up and was about to throw away an old nail. I felt that same presence as if to say, that nail is still good! So now I have a jar on a shelf in my shop with a label that says “dad’s jar,” and that is where I put all those nails.
Those who have gone before us can move from one dimension to the next because they are pure energy, while we mortals can only stay here bogged down by our physical bodies and our misunderstanding of what it is all about. But this time of year, the veil that separates the two-dimension becomes thin, almost transparent, and we exist together.
Now, lest you think I am a heretic. I believe that when we die and convert to energy, we do come into the presence of our creator and that our energy and the energy of all those who have gone before us are together. I also believe that we recognize each other and can hang out with each other.
I have no struggle with that image; the image I struggle with is that of the other place we are said to go after we die. I struggle with this because of my image of God as pure love, and if God loves all of God’s creation, how would God allow creation to suffer? Death frees us from the suffering of this world and of this body. It is not God who causes suffering; it is us, humanity, that causes suffering.
Humanity causes suffering in the way we interact with each other and with the environment. At the time of creation, humanity was given stewardship of creation by God, and I think we have done a lousy job of it. But, unfortunately, this is the only place we have to live, and we need to start caring for it.
But of equal importance is how we care for each other. I have said it before, and I will repeat it, we are all created in God’s image and likeness. At the moment of creation, God created humanity with God’s own hands out of the dust of creation. Of all of the things that were made, it was only humanity that God used Gods own hands to create.
God spoke and said, let us create them in our image. This was the only time in the creation story that God did this. After God created humanity from the dust, God breathed his very breath into the nostrils of humanity. Thus, humanity is the living and breathing image of the creator of all that we see.
Humanity got it wrong, so God sent Jesus, who was with God at the moment of creation, to show humanity the new way, a new way of interacting with each other, and love and care for each other. We are responsible for ensuring that no one goes hungry and that no one goes unloved in this world. The Kingdom of God is not some far-off place that we hope to achieve someday; the Kingdom of God is right here in the present time.
Yes, we must remember those gone before us and continue to tell their stories so they remain alive in our hearts. But we also must care for those still here all of humanity and not just the ones that look like us, talk like us, believe like us, love like us, and all the rest.
Let us resolve on this day to care for each other just a little more than we do now, and in so doing, we can make this world a better place.