No human is solitary. None of us is alone. We become family to one another in birth. We become members one of another in Christ in baptism. All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on All Souls’ Day both celebrate this mutual belonging. All Saints celebrates men and women in whose lives the Church as a whole has seen the grace of God powerfully at work. All Souls celebrates the saints in a more local and intimate key. It allows us to remember with thanksgiving before God those whom we have known more directly: those who gave us life, or who nurtured us in faith.
Today is All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween. Today is the yearly re-enactment that there is nothing to fear, that fear belongs in the darkness, and that darkness has never once defeated light. Today is the reassurance that this light little of mine though it may be dimmed for a moment, in the blaze of the glory of God’s love it can never truly be extinguished. Today is another opportunity to remember that we are not alone, we are never alone. Today is the call to remember that, as the old hymn explains, we are
One family, we dwell in him, one Church, above, beneath
though now divided by the stream, the narrow stream of death
It doesn’t always feel like a narrow stream though, does it? Death, grief, bereavement must never, should never be minimized, reduced down to something more manageable. You know the kind of thing … those who have fallen asleep, he passed on near Christmas, we lost her two years ago, heaven needed another angel …
Today is also a day to say — it hurts, there’s a goneness, some days more, some days less, some days unbearably, some days softened with nostalgia, some days with tears, some days with regret, some days with rage, some days with silence, some days with fear, some days with hope
We used to think that we lived in a three-tier universe, with the underworld beneath, and the heavens above. We know that just doesn’t work of course. We live on a globe and up and down are all relative. But it is an important way of saying that we are not all there is, here is not all that there is, now is not all that there is.
Carl Sagan has wisdom for us on a day like today.
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Yes, and yet no. I know another story. We are eternal. And we are eternally in the mind of the Great Imagination who brought us to birth and in whose arms we die. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid,” said Jesus, “you are of more worth than many sparrows”. And I know another story. The one we hear from Isaiah. “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
I know another story. It’s the story of Jesus, the story of God rooted in the human story, the one who did come to this speck of a planet in the great enveloping cosmic dark. And to our obscurity, from the abyss of divinity, came from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Do you think this Jesus, the bringer of resurrection, forgets a name? Ever? No. This Jesus will be speaking our names into eternity.
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When the hearts of all with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King.