The Souls Of The Righteous Are In The Hands Of God

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)

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