Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Prayer For All Souls Day 2014

November 1 is observed as All Saints Day in many churches, a day to reflect on the witness of Christian saints and martyrs of the past. Today, November 2, is designated as All Souls Day, a time to remember the rest of our deceased loved ones.

In my Anabaptist tradition, we tend not to make a distinction between "saints" and other ordinary followers of Jesus, believing that no one can be a "saint" alone (the word is always in the plural in the Bible), but that we are all, by the grace of God, a part of one global and eternal "communion of saints" spanning all space and time.

But we haven't been especially known for honoring our deceased saints.

I personally like the tradition of families in some Appalachian communities gathering each year at their family cemetery for a day to honor their departed loved ones. They celebrate the day as a kind of reunion, with good food and fellowship and often with singing and the sharing of memories of loved ancestors.

In the church I grew up in we always placed the obligatory gravestone with the name and birth and death dates of our buried deceased, but never brought flowers to their graves and seldom made return visits to the cemetery to honor their memories. Were we missing something?

One thing for sure, our lives don't begin and end with our own life stories. We have all been profoundly shaped by the experiences of countless others from near and far, and from both our present and our past, by all those who have gone on ahead of us. We owe them our gratitude.

This surely includes all of the 3237 individuals named in the Bible. Even though some were scoundrels, we can nevertheless learn something from each person's life, and of course from the multitudes of those who were flawed but worthy examples well worth following.

Since the Bible is largely a book of life stories, we wouldn’t have a Bible as we know it--and likely wouldn’t have a faith, period--without these very human people from our past. And while they are all dead now, as far as an earthly existence is concerned, they are still very much a part of our everyday lives, our experiences of worship, and the instructions and teachings we live by. There is only a "thin space" separating us.

I used to think of all of the people in the past as being behind us, and we the living as being on the front lines of history. But I no longer think of the deceased as bringing up the rear, but rather that we are actually behind them. They are the pioneers of our faith journey, and we are following in their train.

Here's an ancient Lithuanian Prayer for All Souls Day:

Dear souls of the dead,
you are still remembered by my family;
you are most worthy of our perpetual remembrance,
especially you, my grandparents, my parents,
also our relatives, children,
and everyone whom death
took away from our home.
I invite you to this annual feast.
We pray that this feast be agreeable to you,
just like the memory of you is to us. Amen.
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