Sermon for October 30th, 2016 || Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Soul’s Day) || Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58; John 6: 37-40 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
I dare say the liturgical police would be horrified if they knew what we are doing here this morning. While some Anglo-Catholic Episcopal churches continue to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day separately, St. Stephen’s makes no pretense of being even remotely Anglo-Catholic. And I’m pretty sure that even among those “high church” parishes that have bucked the reformed liturgical system, none have also reversed the prescribed order of things by putting All Soul’s day before All Saint’s Day.
Yet that is exactly what we’re doing here at St. Stephen’s this year, and I would argue that it makes tremendously good pastoral sense. Today, in our commemoration of All Soul’s Day, we remember all those “who we love but see no longer” as our Book of Common Prayer says. It’s a solemn occasion, tinged with bittersweet tenderness –from the reading of the necrology, to the singing of the hymns, to the saying of the prayers, many of which come from the liturgy for the Burial of the Dead.
Today we intentionally remember. We remember all those we have loved and lost, and in that remembering we share no small amount of vulnerability– a very sacred, holy, sort of vulnerability. But it is in yielding to that vulnerability that we honor not only our loved one’s lives, and the lives we shared with them, but the grief we felt when they were taken from us…the grief that still follows us like a shadow and sneaks up on us from behind from time to time, perhaps when we least expect it.
And because we grieve, we are intentional about remembering, too, on All Soul’s Day, Christ’s victory over death on Easter morning. We remember that because of that victory, death is never the final word, but rather a birth into new life…better life…life (to quote from our Prayer Book again) in the land of light and joy, “where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.” Life everlasting! Healed and made whole, more fully alive than anything we could ever begin to imagine on this earth.
All Soul’s Day, then, is about remembering and honoring those we love, but see no longer. And All Soul’s Day is about giving thanks for the blessed assurance we have in Christ, of a world hoped for but not yet seen…a world in which the shroud that is cast over all peoples has been destroyed, death has been swallowed up forever, and God has wiped away the tears from all faces.
All Saint’s Day, on the other hand, is a celebration rather than a commemoration. Next week on All Saints Day we’ll recognize all the saints of God, the living and the dead– including all of us. And because All Saints Day is also one of four feast days specifically cited in the Prayer Book as particularly “appropriate” for the celebration of Holy Baptism, we’ll welcome two new saints into the Body of Christ, making it an especially festive celebration indeed!
All Soul’s and All Saints. Remembering and celebrating. Looking back, looking forward, from death to new life, from darkness to light. The liturgical police might not like it, but if you ask me, it feels just right.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our loved ones no longer with us. Grant that their deaths may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.