The last three days have an ancient history of being sacred and holy. Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day. It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.” Halloween as a holy day has been more focused on tricks and treats than on its deeply spiritual roots. The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner. They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them. Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.
The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown. The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.” In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.
For many years in the different churches I have served, we have honored the tradition of All Saints. As protestants, the understanding of saints doesn’t rest in some official notification of who is a saint or not, it focuses on the original definition of saint as one being “in Christ” or in whom “Christ dwells.”
Last year, when I wrote a blog on All Saints Sunday, the church I serve West Heights United Methodist Church lit 36 candles of those had died. Just less than a week later, my mother died. And the season of death began.
This year, over 65 candles were lit. The altar at first was bare.
Then one by one, the names were read and the candles were placed on the altar.
Stunningly beautiful and almost overwhelming to read the names, hear the names and see the candles. It took ten minutes to read all the names and have the candles brought forward. More than a third came right out of our congregation and just a month ago we finished a run of 12 funerals in 12 weeks. Not one funeral a week, but three in four days and two in one in the midst of everything else. To say it was a hard year, is an understatement. It has been a year of deep grief, not just for those who have died, but loss of relationships and an uncertainty about the church itself and the future.
My own grief has gone mostly unnamed and unacknowledged in my own spirit. Sometimes grief will not be denied. So many candles and so many memories of those named and of my own mother. As we sang “For All the Saints” I cried, for the saints, for the memories, for the loss and for a deep thankfulness that I am privileged to be a minister and to give voice to all the longings, the grief, the joy and the thankfulness faith brings.
The candles lit, are not to point us back, but to point us, to point me to the future. A light is not lit to look behind, but to look ahead to the future and to the road and path that leads us on. Those who were named today leave their light in our hearts and spirits, but not for us to remain where we are. We are who we are because of their love, their lessons, their unique and unrepeatable spirits. We, who live on, are to carry that light into the world in the days, the months and the years ahead.
Jesus said that we are called to be “a light to the world”…that through the light we share that the world might see God in what we say and do. We have seen God in those we loved and lost, now we are the ones through who we are that point others to God.
On this All Saints Sunday, I am deeply grateful for the light and love of those who have gone before and challenged to be the light for those yet to come. I am truly graced to serve.