The prophetic task of the church is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society which expresses despair. (Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination.)
Jesus wept. His beloved friend Lazarus had died, Mary was sobbing, and so were her companions. And Jesus himself, who had just said that all those who trust in him would never die but live and that Lazarus would rise again, was nevertheless “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled”; and he wept.
Many of those who saw it said, “See how he loved him!” Like Jesus, they knew that, whatever our hope, tears are a sign of our love and our loss (John 11).
This strange little story, full of weeping and resurrection and other seeming contradictions, describes the tension in which we live. On the one hand, our faith affirms that our loved ones continue their lives in God; and some of us have had visitations or visions which assure us of this deeper truth. The dead are indeed alive in Christ; death is no barrier to relationship; and this is a wonderful reality. On the other hand, we still feel sad and grieve when loved ones die here and now.
We bring this tension to All Saints. This day is an annual opportunity to remember those who have died and gone before us, and who are now part of the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. In a society which often refuses even to speak the names of the dead, it’s a time to say their names aloud, to remember them, and to acknowledge our sadness. It’s a time for comfort, yet it’s also a time for hope as we remember God’s promises and name our faith that death doesn’t have the last word.
This year, given how many of us have lost friends or family members – many of them suddenly, traumatically, and too soon – we will mark All Saints in two ways.
On Sunday 30 October during our usual service time, we will hold our All Saints service via Zoom (yes, two days early). This service names the reality of death and our grief, yet insists on the hope in which we live. During the service, there will be an opportunity to name someone you love who has died, and to tell us in a sentence or two how they inspire you. We will then gather up these names into a great roll call of saints who, through the communion of the Holy Spirit, pray with us this and every week. If you are not able to be there or are uncomfortable to speak but would like to add names to the roll call, email or text them through to me and I’ll add them to the slides. We will also include a prayer for miscarried and stillborn children as a way of acknowledging and holding that very common, yet very private, grief.
Then on Tuesday 1 November, All Saints proper, Sanctuary will hold an Open House. The doors will open at 7pm to anyone who would like to drop in, light a candle, write a name onto our cloud of witnesses, sit in silence, or share stories of their loved ones. At 7.45pm, we will move into a time of simple evening prayers, followed by supper. You can come at anytime, even just rock up at 8pm if you’d like to drink port and eat cake in sweet communion.
And as we remember the saints, we ourselves should feel encouraged. For whenever we gather in Christ’s name, we do not do so alone but as members of a great company: the saints before us (i.e. dead) and beside us (i.e. alive and here), as well as siblings in faith from all around the world. Indeed, saints are simply broken, wounded people who hand their broken, wounded lives over to God to be shaped and molded and used for God’s purpose. In other words, they are people just like us.
From one saint in training, then, to another:
Peace be with you.
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