Celebration of the Dead

I have often told people that there are only two guarantees in our life:

  1.  Everything will change.
  2. We will die.

Seriously, beyond these I am not aware of any guarantee we share with all of humankind.

Change is a challenge for us, because it does require us to step out of our comfort zone and step into the unknown.

Death is often another change for us, perhaps since it defies the above guarantee and is permanent.

Yet, All Saints Sunday is not a sober, sad ‘celebration’ of our deceased loved ones but a celebration in joy, which may seem unnatural and counter-productive (pointless). This celebration, respecting and honoring our departed loved ones seems to transcend culture and religious faith, but more intriguing is that the majority occurring the autumn, and more specifically between October 31 and November 2.

I am intrigued by this time of year, the autumn seasonal changes are beautiful and yet it is preparing the earth for a long, deep sleep or death. Perhaps, that is the reason for our acknowledgement of our own dead.

This morning, we celebrate All Saints Day, which is actually November 1. It is the center-point of a three day Christian festival celebrating our dead.

The celebration begins October 31, All Hallows’ Eve (aka Halloween). The ancient Celts celebrated it as their New Year with the festival Samhain (Sow-in).  At some point in history, All Hallows’ Eve and Samhain traditions became deeply intertwined, including the use of luminaries (lights), costumes, and even ‘Trick-or-Treating”.

Trick or Treating evolved from a Christian All Hallows’ Eve tradition. People would walk to their neighbors’ homes, knock on the door, and offer to pray for their deceased loved ones in exchange for a ‘soul cake’. The prayers were often to decrease a loved one’s time in purgatory, a place between here and heaven or hell. The best description of a ‘soul cake’ is a glazed donut… a circular, sweet pastry with a hole in the center and covered in a sugary glaze… yep, I am sticking with the glazed donut image. 

The next day is All Saints, November 1. This is the day that our Catholic brothers and sisters have traditionally honored the canonized, capital ‘S’ Saints, such as St. Francis, St. Patrick, and the Virgin Mary. Those whose lives were a witness and testimony to God, which we can still learn from their exampled in our time and place these centuries afterwards.

Then, the celebration concludes with All Souls, November 2. All Souls is a celebration to honor all those departed in faith, including those who we light these candles, but also the living who have and continue to experience God’s mercy, love, and grace. Thus, those who are residing in God’s glory and those who one day will.

But, November 1-2 is also ‘the Day of the Dead’ in Mexico.

These ancient cultures, who to the best of our knowledge, would not have interacted with one another have distinctive traditions from October 31 to November 2 in order to celebrate, respect, honor, and remember their departed loved ones.

However, there are two types of death we experience, which nature teaches us.

It is the harvest time. Nature is preparing for a long sleep.

Some plants will not return in the spring.
This is a death that goes to the grave without resurrection.

Some plants become dormant and blossom yet again in the spring.
This is a death that goes to the grave but with resurrection and new life.

Thus, death has two possible results:

  1. The grave and death from which we do not return.
  2. The grave into new life, resurrection (like a Phoenix).

AND, we experience these deaths throughout the whole of our lives…
and at the last Physically.

AND yet, Christianity teaches that one day we will be resurrected.

This is a Christian teaching that the majority are not comfortable, perhaps it seems unnatural or we have questions…

Which one of my ‘bodies’ will be resurrected? …

the ill one?
the one with a few extra pounds around the waist?
the one at its ‘prime’?

What will the resurrection mean… will we be mindless, brain-eating zombies?
Lord, I hope not. 

One day, we will be reunited with loved ones…
Do we know exactly when? No.
Do we know ‘how’? No.

BUT, we do trust that our God, who is living, merciful, and full of grace will allow us to seem our loved ones again and will draw all people, all animals, and all of creation into a death that does not lead purely to the grave but one that leads to growth, new life, and resurrection.

So, on this All Saints festival, I invite you to not mourn and grieve those who have departed before us, but remember and honor them and the life lessons they have taught us.

Scriptures were Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; and Luke 6: 20-31.
Originally preached on 3 Nov. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City).

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