Archive for November, 2017

The Souls Of The Righteous Are In The Hands Of God

November 3, 2017

All Souls’ Day 2017 Just a few words to remind us of the context in which we gather for this glorious Victoria Requiem: We’re in the middle of what I like to call the “All Saints’ Season.” Yesterday was All Saints’ Day when the church remembers the great heroes and heroines of the Christian faith – the Marys and Marthas, the Peters and Pauls, the Clares and the Benedicts who have left major impressions and great impacts on the faith we profess.

Today is All Souls’ Day, or the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, when we remember “Grandma and Grandpa,” our Great Aunts and Uncles, and all those other relatives and friends who have gone before us and who now rest in eternity. Those are likely the ones for whom we have lighted candles and will remember in our prayers tonight.

And, this coming Sunday is sometimes known as All Saints’ Sunday when we gather up both categories of “saints,” likely being more faithful to the New Testament understanding of “saints” as all the baptized – those saints Paul writes to in Corinth or Rome or Galatia who were Christians, but who may have not have acted anything like the saints we find in stained glass windows or read about in the various hagiographies, lives of the saints!

Christians began making pilgrimages to the tombs of the martyrs and commemorating the anniversary of their deaths very early in the history of the church. By the 8th century All Saints’ Day was being observed regularly in England, our Celtic ancestors having perhaps chosen November 1st because that was the festival of Samhain in the British Isles, the day of the dead, when ancestors were remembered.

We don’t of course know exactly what is going to happen to us when we die. Anglican theology has tended to agree with the author of the Wisdom of Solomon tonight who says that “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them” (3:1) while we all await that Last Great Day about which St. Paul writes so vividly in tonight’s Epistle. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)

We believe that our loved ones are with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven “because grace and mercy are upon (the) holy ones and (God) watches over (the) elect.” (3:9) But, one day, in the fullness of time, when things are set right again, once and for all, “those who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died…so we will (all) be with the Lord forever.” (4:17)

Jesus seems to agree with this scenario as he is quoted in John’s Gospel this evening as saying, “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25) There seems to be both a future and a present dimension to resurrection, and to our eternal salvation.

Most of us have experienced a sense of the presence of a departed loved one at some point. Indigenous people live with a conscious sense of being surrounded by the spirits of their ancestors. The Pueblo Indians call their mystical forebears “the kachmas. We call the same reality the “communion of saints”.

An image I sometimes used at funerals in my last parish was to suggest visualizing the communion rail as extending to eternity on either side. And, as folks come forward for Holy Communion to experience those departed loved ones kneeling alongside them. For, as we draw close to Jesus in the Eucharist, so we draw close to those who now rest more fully in Jesus.

Not sure exactly what image to suggest here at New Song since we come forward to receive our communion in stations. Perhaps to sense those faithful departed in line before us, making the sign of the cross upon our foreheads with the water of our baptism. Or, perhaps surrounding us all in a great circle, inviting us forward to receive the Lord in whom they rest.

However we may wish to think about it, surely it is good to observe a day on which we commemorate all the faithful departed. We have not been alone in this world. Those who have gone before us have prepared the way.

We will not be alone in eternity. For “the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace…their hope is full of immortality…because grace and mercy are  upon (the) holy ones, and (God) watches over (the) elect.”  (Wisdom 3:1-9 passim)

My Seminary On All Souls’ Day: A Reflection

November 2, 2017

As I continue my work as a life-long learner, I continue to be grateful for what was a really remarkable theological education I received at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in the late 1960s into the 1970s. Never considered one of the Episcopal Church’s top academic seminaries, Seabury nonetheless had a solid history of preparing well trained and faithful parish priests. However, I have never believed that I received anything less than a top flight academic preparation as well.

I have been dipping back into Teilhard de Chardin who is experiencing something of a renaissance these days and I remember Professor Julian Victor Langmead Casserly waxing eloquently about the “Omega Point” and the “noosphere” as we read Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu and The Phenomenon of Man in his philosophical theology class.

In my work, many years later with the Lutherans, I was greatly helped by remembering and reflecting on the best course I ever had on The Epistle to the Romans taught by Professor Jules Moreau who made the theological concept of “salvation by grace through faith” fairly sing in his presentations, usually delivered without notes perched upon the corner of his desk. I believe we used Anders Nygren’s commentary as well as the classic by Karl Barth.

This week I opened my new edition of The Anglican Theological Review and began to read several articles on something called “The Theological Interpretation of Scripture” which is apparently gaining some ascendancy in the world of biblical scholarship today. And I remember an elective offered by Old Testament Professor Jack Van Hooser and New Testament Professor Fred Borsch entitled “Biblical Theology.” As I recall it was offered over pizza and beer at Fred’s house and explored a thematic approach to the whole Bible treating common themes like covenant and salvation and justice, looking for continuity across the centuries without for a moment neglecting the very specific contextual and historical contexts in which each of the authors worked. Back to the future?

I could go on and on including Professor David Babin’s enthusiastic introduction of the work then underway for a “new” Prayer Book and preparing us to use it pastorally in every situation as well as on Sunday mornings. David was also the best preacher on the faculty, delivering powerful but very brief “postils” as tightly constructed as a sonnet at every Friday morning Eucharist. He was, of course, homiletics as well as liturgics instructor and I have always been grateful for his encouragement and wisdom on the preaching life.

We were always counseled that the seminary task was not to impart a body of knowledge which would carry us once and for all through the years of our active ordained ministry. But rather, that they were providing us tools to become lifelong learners. I have tried to rise to that challenge and, on this All Souls’ Day, to give thanks for those giants who gave me those tools.

Laus Deo!