All Saints Day 5 November
Readings: Rev. 7. 9-end; 1 Jn. 3. 1-3; Mt. 5. 1-12
Theme: The Communion of Saints
Today we remember those whom we have dearly loved and have died. They go before us to meet the lord and the pain of their absence is something which remains with us. Our Eucharistic celebration today brings together both feasts of All Souls and All Saints at our weekly gathering in the chaplaincy here on the Costa del Sol West.
So, how are we to understand these two feasts?
All Souls is a feast which invites us to remember. It asks us to keep alive the memory of those who have died and this is one of the ways in which they live on. Each of us has our own stories to tell about our loved ones. In this last year, my brother in law Derek died whilst I was here serving as a locum over the Christmas period. He had dementia, that horrible disease which robs a person of their cognitive and physical capacities and was in and out of hospital and a care home as my sister watched on and cared for him during this ending of his life.
When such a tragedy as this hits us, we feel gutted. It is as if the sun has stopped shining and there is only darkness, emptiness and loss. This may, at times, also be peppered by some relief that the misery of the person has now come to an end and they are united with the lord and so in safe hands. It can be an exhausting time for those who are doing the caring. The emotional turmoil and the physical hardships combine to produce a lethal cocktail of exhaustion, stress and anxiety. When the end comes in this way, there is often only a sense of deep sadness and emptiness as we start the process of coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
Each death is of course singular. Some deaths are quiet, peaceful and surrounded by the warmth and love of the family. Others are traumatic and filled with pain and suffering. The common factor in each death is the finality of it. Whatever has preceded it has now passed and there is simply the lifeless body of the person that was once the one whom we loved. The first reading from the Book of Revelation today alludes to the tragic side of death by its reference to the white robes of the multitude of those who stand before the throne of the Lamb. The white robe is the symbol of the martyrs whose blood of the Lamb has washed their sins away and so they appear before the Lamb of God in white, as pure and spotless. They are those “who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. The great ordeal in question here is that of the sufferings of the Lord echoed in the sufferings of the martyrs. It purifies those who pass through this “great ordeal” and prepares them to stand before the throne of the Lamb and to sing the song of blessing and praise to the Lamb.
The tragedy of the death of our loved ones is enfolded in this dramatic scene presented to us today from the Book of Revelation, and it reveals that the Lamb will shelter our loved ones from the “scorching heat” of suffering and “wipe away every tear from their eyes”. It is truly a message of hope for those who mourn the loss of loved ones.
All Saints is a feast which reminds us that those who have gone before belong to the communion of saints—that community of “every nation, tribe, peoples and languages who stand before the throne of the Lamb to praise him”. They are the ones who have lived their lives according to the beatitudes spoken of in our Gospel reading for today, “Blessed are……These beatitudes are the commandments which those who are dedicated to Christ seek to live in their lives on earth. They represent a fresh expression of the mosaic law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and now communicated to the followers of Jesus as the code of life for all who seek to follow God as the community of the saints on earth as in heaven. This new community, the community of the church, is composed of all of those who live by the beatitudes as their code of life. Their reward is to take their place with the great multitude who are assembled around the Lamb in heaven praising Him day and night.
This is why the church is not simply a club or an association like other communities. Rather it is a community of solidarity between the living and the dead, between those who have sought to live according to the beatitudes throughout all of history. This understanding of the church widens the circle of membership to include our loved ones whom we mourn at this time. They too celebrate with us around the throne of the Lamb as we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might…” in our Eucharist today. For in this celebration, which unites heaven and earth in a divine exchange of love, we are once again joined with our loved ones in the body of the Lamb who was sacrificed for us, so that through his blood, we may be wiped clean and wear the white robed garment of the communion of saints. It is through this Eucharistic feast that we taste the first fruits of our salvation which has once again united us into the communion of saints, before the throne of the Lamb.
So, as we remember of departed loved ones at this Eucharistic celebration today, let us join with them in praising the one through whose blood we have been wiped clean of our sins. Jesus our crucified and risen Lord who is alive and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.