With Halloween goodies and Christmas delights jostling for space on the shelves of our supermarket, it can be hard to remember that the season of trick-or-treating has its foundation in the Christian celebration of All Saints and All Souls.
Traditionally Halloween is the vigil day before All Saints day. All Saints day is the day to remember that all Christians, from all times and places, are saints and to rejoice in this truth. All Souls day is a day to remember the dead, particularly those we each know and love who have died. After the reformation, All Souls Day fell out of favour in many Protestant traditions. In recent years All Saints and All Souls days tend to be merged into one day of celebration and commemoration.
Remembering all the saints helps us call to mind the goodness and mercy of God.
We are all made saints, not because of our own goodness but because God is good. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are brought home to God and made holy. The act of being made a saint is an act of grace in which God says to us “I love you utterly, I make you whole, I make you holy, I make you righteous”. All this because God loves us. All Saints day is a celebration of God’s gracious choosing of us. It is a celebration of a love that welcomes us to the table not because we are worthy but because of what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is a celebration of the wide embrace of God that draws all people into love, from all times and places.
Somewhere, I can no longer remember where, I came across this quote: “Saints aren’t perfect. Rather they are people who are so in love with God their heart is set on fire by that love.” Remembering all the saints reminds us that the Christian faith is an embodied faith. Faith is lived, practiced and enacted in the day-to-day situations we find ourselves in. Faith is expressed with our bodies so that our body bears witness in the way we live to what we believe. When we remember the saints we remember the life of those who show us how to live as faithful people in the world.
Marking All Saints provides us a day to remember people whose lives are set on fire by God’s love and who display that love of God in their daily lives. In recalling these people we are encouraged to seek God’s love and open ourselves to living a life shaped by God’s love.
Remembering all the saints connects us to the church across time and space and place. It reminds us of the global reach of the gospel. The gospel is for all people in every culture. In reminding ourselves of all saints we remember the diverse cultural and historic expressions of faith we witness across the sweep of history. This reminds us to value the diversity of the saints in our midst in our own time and to have hope that God will continue to makes saints in our time and place.
The celebration of All Souls days has a different focus and feel and can, I believe, have a deep pastoral intent. It is a day where the focus shifts from a sense of all the saints in the enormity of that recollecting to remembering saints we have known personally who have died.
One of the things that gives me great comfort in grief is that year-by-year the Anglican congregation where my partner was a member remember him by name on both All Souls day and the anniversary of his death. This remembering comforts me. It reminds me of God’s great love and reassures me my partner is, and will be, remembered by name by a community that loved him and nourished his faith.
All Souls day provides space for mourning and comfort, for remembering and giving thanks, held in God’s promise that God’s love holds both the dead and the living. Through that love both the dead and the living find new life in participation in the life of God. I wonder if in the Uniting Church we have lost something powerfully pastoral by not marking All Souls Day or by mixing it up with All Saints Day.