We are now late in the church year and are rapidly moving toward Advent. It seems that by late October and all of November we cannot fit in all the last of the special days, feast days and loose ends of the larger church calendar before we begin anew with Advent. We have two celebrations so close to each other that one or both might be overlooked. They are Reformation and All Saints. The precise days are not always celebrated and in many cases, a Sunday is set aside for observance.
I want to take time to look at All Saints. The observance seems to have been overshadowed by All Hallows Eve… Halloween. Recently, Halloween has taken on the charisma of Christmas with the extremes some people go to decorate their front yards. But the day that it is really connected to is the following day, November first. It is a day set aside to remember those who have gone before us in naming Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The traditions are varied both in the Eastern Church, Roman Catholic and Protestant. Some may take three days to observe the event with the Eve on October 31st and All Saints on November first and a third day called All Souls Day on November second. Regardless of tradition, we are setting aside a time to remember those in our Christian community and our families who have died in the Lord.
Nicetas of Remesiana, 335-414, was the bishop of his native city of Remesiana, Bela Palenka, Serbia. He is the first who wrote of Vigils for the Saints. It is here and then again in the early seventh century that Pope Boniface the IV gave it the name that we still used today; All Saints Day. With this, we have a fifteen-century history of observing and remembering the saints.
In reciting our creedal statements, we breeze past the phrase, Communion of Saints, and go on to the next; without giving much thought to what that means. Here then comes the mystery. How does this work? Are we really a part of something?
In the Western church, the communion of saints refers to a communion of holy ones, both living and dead. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi (Phil 1:1) “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”. That then would include us; then and now. In fact, it connects us all in this love of God. In that connection, we share our sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as a body together. Bound in the loving arms of God forever.
The celebration of the “Day of the Dead” (Día de Muertos) has its traditions stemming from Mexico. Historians seem not to be sure if it is from the Spanish influence or that of an earlier Aztec connection. What is interesting about the day is that it is not held singularly in solemnity. It is a day of remembrance of the people and is told with stories that are often humorous and are retold to aid the younger people of a family in an understanding of those before. It can be a rather raucous celebration.
The 2017 movie Coco is an animated story of a twelve-year-old boy who is able to cross the divide and experience his ancestors. It is a wonderful story and should be viewed and perhaps again if you have already seen it. It is a thoughtful and whimsical adventure into our relationship to the saints.
To go in another, yet connected direction, I have often toyed with the notion that this could include those yet to come after us and will call on Jesus as Lord. I wonder if God holds out the love for this creation that we claim, how then could we not include those yet to come? It is not a big step to consider that if we will be gathered in a resurrection with our Lord, then we cannot limit our thinking to only those around us now and those before. We must make space in our thinking for those yet to come. From here it is only a small step to consider what we are leaving behind for those yet to come. We must then include things such as care for the earth and care of people that we share this planet with right now.
So, what are we saying when we speak of All Saints? Now it gets really big! We are making space for the activity of the Holy Spirit and let God be God in wherever this creation might go in the future.
And in that we can only give God thanks.