Dear Members and Friends,
November 1st, the veil thinner, and we remember
those who’ve gone to the other side. Don’t worry,
I say, I’ll be there soon. But for now, I mark the presence
of their absence, an ache in the throat, a finger
of memory’s pulse. Light candles to keep out the dark,
to mark a path, should they wish to return. The floating world
shimmers and ebbs. I’d like to cross over, just for one hour,
see my mother, hold my baby, talk to Clare. Perched on our shoulders,
the dead ride with us, teetering like pyramids of water skiers, forming
enormous wings. Their words, though, remain inaudible. Cold syllables.
They scratch maps in frost on dark windows, but no one can read them.
Cross the threshold. This night is ancient and long. Whisper in my ear,
tell me what the new year will bring. Look at how the candle uses up
its wax. See how the smoke rises in the hearth.
-Barbara Crooker, “Day of the Dead”
Laurence had just finished the tour of the cemetery for the young seminary student. After the graves of his parents and grandparents, all the others he highlighted had one trait in common: from the couple who ran the General Store, to the village atheist, and the convicted murdered executed in the electric chair, they all had died without heirs. Laurence then asked the student pastor: “Who will remember them when I am gone? Who will remember me?”
Remembering the dead is something the church does on November 1, All Saints Day. Originally designated by the Catholic Church when the calendar became so filled with Saints’ days of remembrance that there were almost no “ordinary” days left. So, aside from the “Super Saints,” like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Peter, Paul, Francis, to name some of the more well known, all other saints were to be remembered, honored, and celebrated on November 1.
Protestants, however, have always believed that all followers of Jesus are saints, not just those who have lived exemplary lives. We know that even saints are not saintly all the time. We can be honest about the faults and foibles of those who have died, even the best of them. All of us are a little bit of a saint and a little bit of a sinner throughout our lives..
On All Saints Day we affirm that every life bears the image of God. Though that image may be easier to see in the lives of those who we call saints, it is true of all lives, if you look. When we remember those who were despised and forgotten by most of the world we are walking the path of Jesus, who came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus expressly took his place with all souls, including the blasphemer, the executed, and those who die without heirs. This is one of the great vocations of the church: to remember all saints and all souls, always.
As we do, especially when we intentionally and consciously remember them, as we will this Sunday nearest to All Saints Day, the distance between heaven and earth thins out. The great divide grows porous, the Jordan River narrows. At such a moment as we will share on Sunday, we can become especially conscious that, “Perched on our shoulders, the dead ride with us, teetering like pyramids of water skiers, forming enormous wings.” Perhaps these are our angel wings?
One of the great comforts for me has always been this practice of the church to remember the faithful dead. I have been encouraged when attending Conference Annual Meetings and hear the names of clergy colleagues who have died since the last Annual Meeting read in worship to know that one day I will be so remembered. And to know that the church will remember me on All Saints Day and at other times is part of my faith and part of my hope.
Faith makes a difference in how we die. We die in hope. Because that is how we die, that is also how we live.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida