Redeeming All Saints’ Day

From my bad experiences last year I have some negative memories on church holidays. One of those was World Communion (the first Sunday in October), which was a pretty ugly day last year. This year I had a fever and had to stay home on that day, so I couldn’t replace the bad memory with a good one. But All Saints’ is one of my absolute favorite church holidays, and I wanted this year to redeem last year’s experience. I was able to really live into that today.

tealight candle on human palms
Photo by Dhivakaran S on Pexels.com

On All Saints’ in the protestant church, we celebrate all who died in Christ the past year. We light candles for them, sometimes reading names or ringing a bell as well. It’s a beautiful reminder that death is not truly the end, and Christ has the last word on all things eternal. It’s a day of sweet memories of departed loved ones and hope in the resurrection.

I began the day at my husband’s church where he got to perform the requiem that he composed. The choir worked so hard, and the music was beautiful. It was a gift to hear my husband’s music be sung aloud. It was reverent, worshipful, and hopeful.

Then I attended my regular church where we could all come forward and light candles in memory of loved ones. Typically we only light candles for those who have died within the last year, but since my previous church didn’t practice this I was robbed of the opportunity to light candles for a couple friends last year. So I lit candles for them this year. I think God was fine with me “breaking the rules” (especially since they’re our rules, not God’s.) I lit a candle for Cindy, a friend from seminary who had to pause her studies because of health issues and ended up passing away last year. I lit a candle for Dinah, another seminary friend who died just weeks after we had graduated and just a few weeks before she was to be ordained. I also lit a third candle for author Rachel Held Evans. Although she wasn’t my friend, she was important to me and her death impacted me. All three of these women ministered until they literally, physically could not anymore.  What a witness to leave behind: ministering until your last breath. All three died very suddenly and untimely as well. None of them from old age.

When All Saints’ was taken from me by bad experiences last year, it stole the necessary grieving and worship process I had needed and had longed for. Redeeming the holiday this year has helped heal my heart in many ways. I am strong and getting stronger every day. I am stronger than those who tried so hard to break me, and I am rising above them.  Today I worshipped as an act of defiance and resistance. I truly felt the communion of the saints and the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me and giving me the strength to heal and be better.

Hard Seasons: Mortality

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Our final blog in the “hard seasons” series is well-timed for the holidays: Halloween, All Souls, and All Saints. This week we focus on mortality.

Here in this scripture passage we focus on Paul’s mortality. He has lived a long, hard, fulfilling life of creating community and sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Like every human being in the world, Paul shows mixed emotions to his situation. He has been abandoned, imprisoned, and persecuted. He’s hurting and grieving. But he finds healing in his faith, purpose in his mission, and comfort in his community. He’s striving to make peace with what he foresees to be his death, but also has some hope that maybe he will survive this. It’s heartbreaking and complicated. There is fear. There is hope. There is pain. There is acceptance. It’s a good picture of what we all go through when facing mortality.

I wish I could say that I don’t fear death, but I very much do. I am afraid of the pain and suffering. We all want to die painlessly in our sleep, don’t we? One of the comforts we have, when we have physical pain and suffering, is that it will pass. What happens when you are suffering so much that you know it will consume you? What a horrifying thought.

This probably doesn’t sound very hopeful, and you might be wondering why I am being so morbid. I’m sharing this because I want you to know it’s okay to be afraid. It was always preached to me that no “good” or “true” Christian should be afraid of dying. That’s not true. You don’t lack faith for having fear. While the passage above doesn’t show Paul’s fear, if you read the whole chapter you can see it. Paul was urging his friends and community to come be with him, quickly before it was too late. He was afraid.

Fear can be simultaneous with faith and acceptance. Anytime we suffer, whether or not we are facing mortality, we do not have to put on a brave face for anyone. People often compliment others when they “never complain” through their cancer treatments, or when they “never lost their sense of humor” when the doctors said there was nothing else they could do. These things are great if they help the individual who is facing their mortality: if humor and positivity help us cope, then do it! But don’t feel like you have to keep everyone else positive, laughing, and smiling when you are the one suffering. Your responsibility is to yourself; you shouldn’t have to comfort others when you are the one who should be comforted.

And then, this turns to us as well. When others suffer, don’t turn away. If we are uncomfortable with the suffering of others, that is our problem, not theirs. They shouldn’t have to make us feel better about our secondhand trauma, when they’re the ones dealing with it firsthand. We shouldn’t expect them to hold our hand; we need to hold theirs (if they want us to.)

Let’s leave space for fear in our faith. If someone is at peace and is unafraid of death, it’s because they have learned how to cope with fear in a healthy way. If we suppress it, then it eats at us from the inside and robs us of the possibility of the peace we desire when facing mortality. Paul expresses his fear, but by doing so he made a path for peace and acceptance of his death. He knew that God would abide in his final hours, and Paul longed to see the face of the Lord. Just like Paul’s story, facing mortality is heartbreaking and complicated, but naming our fears takes away their power. Once we accept that it’s okay to be afraid, the peace of God can find its way in our hearts to comfort and guide.

All Saints’ Prayer

God of all souls, past, present, and future you have gathered us in the palm of your hand. Thank you for enfolding us in behind and walking before us each step of the way. As the church year comes to a close and we prepare our hearts for a new beginning in Advent, we remember our loved ones who have passed away this year. We pray for all the grieving hearts that are missing their loved ones this year. We trust that our beloved have gone on to be with you, and that if you are always with us then that means they aren’t too far away. Even though this is a comfort, we still hurt and we grieve. For the many types of suffering and mourning we pray peace and understanding.

On this, All Saints’ Day, we remember the souls who’ve entered into the eternal light of Christ. We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after living long lives of many years, full of love.

(Candle lighting and bell chime)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away too soon and too young.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after a prolonged illness.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of all souls who were victims of violence, crime, injustice, and tragic circumstances.

(Candle and bell)

God of every age, we entrust these souls to you. As we mourn their absence in the here and now, we look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb when we will gather together at your table in reunion and communion. You are the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who will wipe the tears from our eyes when the old passes away into the New Heaven and New Earth. Until we are reunited, be our peace and our hope. In the name of Christ, the Lamb of God, amen.