All Souls Day – All Faithful Departed – Ted Hackett
Today we are celebrating “All Souls Day”… In the Prayer Book it is called “All the Faithful Departed.” I prefer the old, Medieval term “All Souls” Because I don’t believe that our eternal future all depends on how faithful we are in this life. I know that sounds a little…well…Heretical But for now… let’s leave it at being faithful certainly helps! More about that later…
All Souls’ comes the day after All Saints’ Day… Hallowe’en is All Saints’ Eve… It is the celebration of what early medieval people believed about the dead… They thought the dead who were in an “Intermediate State”… That is those who were not good enough for Heaven but not bad enough for Hell… Came back in ghostly form on All Saints Eve to beg for our prayers… And if we didn’t take pity on them…they would play malicious tricks on us! It started in Ireland in the 19th century and came to this country with Irish immigrants. Which explains my Irish grandmother’s Hallowe’en superstitions!
But we have moved All Saints day… One of the Church’s four main Holy Days…which comes on November first… To the next Sunday after All Souls to make it easier for folks to get to Church… So we’ll do All Saints’ next Sunday… That’s convenient…but it disconnects Hallowe’en, All Saints’ and All Souls’ day… They really all go together… Because they all deal with the same thing… What is our destiny after Death?
We are not sure when the observation of All Souls started, but it became official in the 10th century when Benedictine monks made it a special day for prayers for those in Purgatory… Purgatory, of course, was a lot like Hell but it didn’t last forever. It was like a painful prison sentence… You went there and were tortured for a certain period of time till you had paid the price of your sins and then you would go on to Heaven….or at least to Paradise to wait for the end of the world when you would finally go to Heaven. That was in Europe… In the Eastern Church, those who were not in Heaven or in Hell were pointed to repentance by a feeling of intense longing and frustration… Like a kid with his nose pressed against the glass of a candy store… They sort of knew what the full presence of God would be like… But for now… Till they repented They were…Excluded!
Hell in the Eastern Orthodox tradition by the way… Was final separation from God and the Saints… Not fire and brimstone! Now I am sure you have all that straight… Even though I am a former Professor I won’t give an exam on it! It is kind of interesting though… Kind of like trivia… But does it mean anything to us?
Well…even today… In our skeptical contemporary world… It has a lot to do with death… The death of those we love… And our own death! And death….is inevitable!
But….there is something in us… A still, small voice inside us… A part of us that refuses to accept that death is The end… A part of us … That when we hear the voice of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans say:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor a angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” We want to shout: Yes!…. Death will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Yes!…YES!!! My soul says: “YES!”
Paul’s “US” here… Nothing shall separate “US” from the love of God does not mean Paul and me… “Us” means all of us… Everyone… Death shall not separate any of us from the love of God!
Wait a minute… Does that mean no one is damned? No one goes to Hell? That’s easy to swallow for…say my Uncle Louie…a roguish alcoholic who played sort of mean tricks on people… But how about Hitler?…Stalin?… How about Pol Pot…or Putin?
It’s hard to swallow for people like that… It means forgiveness for monsters… And we don’t want to do that… We don’t want to eat the heavenly banquet sitting next to Hitler! But the point is… Hitler…even Hitler will be changed… He will be spend enough time knowing the prospect of love…but excluding himself from it…
That eventually he will genuinely repent… Genuinely change… When I was a young priest, an older nun who I was visiting and I got into a theological discussion… I asked her if she believed in Hell… She nodded solemnly: “Yes Father…I have to…it’s doctrine”… Then she added slyly: “But I don’t have to believe anyone goes there!”
Here’s the thing Sister knew… God is love…That’s the Gospel of John… And God created us to love… To love God…And each other. And if anyone is sentenced to suffering and hatred for eternity… Then God has been defeated…
And that is not possible! In the end…God is love…. And all shall be love. But what of now? What of death?
Paul says: “Death has no dominion over us…” Very early on, the Church understood that when we die we “Pass over” into death as the people of Israel passed over the Red Sea into freedom … And in death those beloved dead are waiting for us… Now they are unseen…but sometimes they can be felt…felt as present… A feeling that is part memory…but more that memory… We are still connected… Unseen…they are with us… Because God loves them… And created them… And created us… To live and To love.
So in a moment we will toll a bell…and light candles. And read the names of those beloved dead…. Knowing that their souls are in the hand of God, Knowing that they are unseen but here… Knowing that we shall be united….
And then we will celebrate that Holy Meal… Knowing that attending at that table… Surrounding us…filling this church… Redeemed in love as we are being redeemed The whole host … All the company of Heaven… Singing and blessing us…. Blessed be those who come in the name of the Lord!
As the bell tolls… As we come to the Eucharist… The promise of the heavenly banquet… Let us know the love of God… And the love of all the Saints… And know that in Christ Jesus… Nothing and no one… shall be lost… Alleluia!