In the name of God, who loves us as Father and Mother, exceeding our understanding of even the most boundless of love –
In the name of the Son, the crucified and resurrected Christ, who empowers and teaches us that love, bringing us across the chasm from mortality to immortality,
And in the name of the Spirit, which both inspires and enables us to walk constantly in that love,
I will admit I had various thoughts about preaching on All Souls. At first I thought, I can do this – I can reflect on these topics. But as I began to delve a bit deeper, I realized there was more to today than I had originally thought. Traditionally, All Souls falls at the end of three days – the first is All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints – then All Saints itself, which we celebrated this morning – and then All Souls. Due to politics many years ago, church and governmental alike, the Anglican Church distanced itself some from remembering All Souls, for various reasons–coming back to it as the Anglican Church as it rediscovers its Catholicity. In many churches, the concept and content of All Souls is kind of blended with All Saints on the first Sunday of November. So, distinguishing between the two was kind of a bit of homework for me, which was good—though it did give me some pause at first. It wasn’t something with which I was as familiar. And yet after reading more, especially reflecting on today’s readings, it became obvious to me that there was much to share on this special day.
This is the day when we remember those who have gone before us—the day of the dead, all the faithful, all souls… I have lost count of how many caskets I have looked into, how many gravesides I have stood at, for many elderly – and also for those much closer to my own age. The psalm today reminds us of those feelings we so often have at the time of death itself:
1 Out of the depths I cry to you…
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Funerals can be difficult for us to deal with, and deaths can be tragic and sudden, yet it is also comforting to remember the dead and hold them in prayer. This day of All Souls is ultimately one of celebration, our reminder that the ones who have gone before us are not lost, and we should not forget them—and that though physically they are not with us, spiritually, they still are—and that is not something to be taken lightly. Not simply as something for us to have as a manner of coping with what has happened to others…but the other readings remind us that this is also something that will not only happen to us as well, and how important it is to the very essence of our Christian journey.
Firstly, we are given the prophetic promise in Isaiah that death does not have the final word.
7 …he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
What we come to later understand in the gospels, in Christ’s death and resurrection, is reflected here in God’s promise to abolish sin and death. To destroy the shroud and sheet that covers all nations—that is, death. No more will there be sorrow and sadness. This is often the message that we think of in our churches when we reflect on those who have died. And yet now I would ask that we shift our position slightly, so as to gain a different perspective on the matter. Death is not simply something inevitable for us, nor simply something that God will abolish…but it is something through which we must pass. Our reading from Corinthians explains further the necessity of this death:
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 …the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I repeat again…death is not only inevitable, but necessary.
Upon reading this passage, though, I began to wonder about something else. Many other readings remind us that we as people of faith are called to bring about the Kingdom of God – and there are those who would interpret this as an apocalyptic call to hearken the end of days, but if, as we were reminded in the gospel in last week, the two greatest commandments that Christ leaves us are rooted in love – then the Kingdom of God simply, logically, cannot be founded upon something so violent. We are called to bring about the essence of the Kingdom of God on earth – that is, all of the beautiful, wonderful, amazing things that are possible with the love of God and the crucified and resurrected Christ in Him.
But…to inherit the Kingdom is something else completely. If God our Father would have us inherit His Kingdom…when someone passes away, who generally inherits something? One’s family – one’s children. To inherit the Kingdom of Heaven implies that we would be finally, truly, completely living into our calling as children of God, that goal towards which we constantly strive in our spiritual journey on life—and after death.
If we proclaim that death has neither sting nor victory, that we believe in the promise in the resurrection of Christ, then we are boldly proclaiming that we believe in something further beyond death. It is not simply a free pass avoiding death—as we have said, it is necessary—in death we are going beyond the veil that limits our view in this beautiful, messy, imperfect life. If we know that we are prey to sin and death in this life, then in the hope of the resurrected Christ, death itself becomes merely a threshold across which we pass – towards life in abundance. Becoming closer still to that complete and perfect reunion with God, and to truly inherit the Kingdom.
And who are those who would inherit that kingdom? Our gospel reading for today explains further:
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 …a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
Jesus has the authority to judge and has passed that judgment – as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus makes a point to talk about how we would treat those whom society often places on the margin and periphery—we will be judged based on our actions towards those in need. And I ask – do we help people simply because it is ‘what we should do’, or do we truly challenge ourselves to look at them through the lens which Christ views us all – with love and compassion. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means ‘to suffer with’ – do we simply give a handout, as though Jesus offers us redemption and the promise and hope of the resurrection merely as some social assistance because we are poor and pitiful creatures that God could barely look us in the eye were He to pass us on the street? No. Christ meets us where we are at and reaches out to us not in pity because we are lesser than Him – but in love.
This is one of those many facets of Christian thought that is easy to arrive at mentally, but in practice, can be rather hard to truly do in the manner in which we ought to. Those who have gone before us, all the saints, and all the souls, have hopefully helped us learn things, have taught us ways to constantly strive towards improving – to continue in the process of achieving perfect communion with God. When I was told that part of today would also entail a memorial for Alcy, part of me was hesitant at first – I am somewhat new to your congregation, still; this community knew her far longer than I did. And yet it is that newcomer’s eye that is perhaps most telling at times – though I had little time with her, it is plain to see the impact that she had on everyone here. How deeply she touched people, how her life interwove with yours in love and compassion, a presence in this community. How her actions and love showed and taught that compassion.
This is but one example of one person and her impact. Who are the others who have left these tangible marks on your own souls? Whose bodies are no longer among us? Their deaths do not mean anything more than they are no longer with us physically. Death does not limit God’s care and love—nothing can separate us from the love of God. Rather, it is through death that we necessarily pass on the road to community, healing, and grace. God seeks our wholeness, and that reconciliatory process continues beyond the grave. This is why we plead the eternal sacrifice on the dying and risen Christ on behalf of all the faithful departed, and continue the journey that leads us also towards death and beyond—it does not end the human adventure.
And so our prayers radiate beyond this life, bringing greater light to the post-mortem journey of our loved ones. We remember that God is with them as He is with us. We do not forget them, their imperfections and virtues alike. That their prayers as well do not end at death—we, all of us, are growing in grace. That is the amazingness of an infinite God—there is simply no end to all of His qualities—His grace, mercy and love have no bounds, and He is always with us—in life, in death, and beyond. The one who gave us life in His death never leaves us, and so all the saints and all the souls join us in unending praise.