For me at least, All Saints Sunday has always been more about mystery than dogma.
More about the familiar strains of poetry and the strident, or haunting, or jaunty melodies than about any well reasoned theological statement or argument.
“Behold a host arrayed in white…”
“For all the saints, who from their labors rest…”
“When all the saints go marching in…”
That mystery surely finds a place to rest in all those families gathering to pick up and carry in their loved one’s pillar candle or candles, depending on how many times they had been called to stand still in the mystery since last All Saints Day.
And isn’t the gift and power of this do almost palpable in the image of children and adults, young and old, strong and weak, able and less so, making their way to the front and leaning in to light one candle in memory of someone so loved, with all that memory and hope shining in their eyes and now and then streaming down their faces? And the light of a couple hundred candles flickering and melting and reflecting off the walls and the faces of those who have come together?
This day is all about the mystery.
- Whether it is the mystery of Daniel’s dream and the wonder of the promise of who it is to receive and possess the kingdom forever and ever… (Daniel 7:18)
- Or the wonder of being among those ‘marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit — the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…’ (Ephesians 1:13-14)
- Or the urging of Luke’s Jesus to see and thus to begin to experience ‘blessing’ and ‘woe’ in the most unexpected places… (Luke 6:20-31)
It is all about the mystery of how God is with us and for us in this life and the next, binding us to one another in ways we can hardly begin to imagine or understand. And yet we know it is so. Somehow, deep down, we know this is so.
And oh, how I need to stand still in this mystery every year for I am afraid that the push and the pull of the rest of my days do not allow for it much. Or maybe I don’t allow those days to hold the mystery. At least not in a way that it is possible for me to receive it. Whatever else is so, too often I find I am too busy playing my familiar role, bringing the gifts I am called to bring, rather than simply standing still in wonder at the gift God always brings in what God has done and is still doing in or through or among ‘all the saints,’ particularly those we remember in song and candlelight every first Sunday in November.
This surely came home to me this past June.
I was on a much needed sabbatical. Over the course of a couple of months I would travel some, read a lot, walk different paths, ride my bike more, see family I had not seen in a while, and learn some things I hadn’t taken the time to think about before. It was all gift, but yes, it was also hard. Hard to set aside the work, the responsibilities, the role which has shaped and defined my identity for so very long. I was surely edgy those first few weeks as I tried to let it all go. That edginess surfaced in this way:
- I was home between my various travels in mid-June.
- I walked to the curb and picked up the newspaper.
- I set it on the dining room table alongside my breakfast.
- As I ate, I flipped through the pages of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, only to see a familiar face staring back at my from the obituaries.
One of mine, one of ours was there.
Of course no one had called, that was the agreement. It was as it should be, as it needed to be, but I sat there for more than a few minutes simply lost in my grief.
I should not have been surprised, for she was not young. Even so, her health status had not seemed critical when I left.
And so it was that I felt terrible:
- Terrible for not having been the one to take the call, yes, and to stand at the bedside, offer the prayers, entrust her to God’s care on her journey home.
- Lost in my lack of ability then to bring any immediate gift to this beloved family’s pain.
- Almost despairing in the truth that I would not be the one this time
- to stand alongside,
- to speak the familiar words of comfort and hope,
- to hold the hands,
- to make the plans,
- to lead the body of their beloved to her final resting place.
This time there was nothing for me to do but to stand still in the news. To recognize my sense of loss. And to give it back to God, knowing that among this great communion of saints we call our own, God would ensure they had all that they needed. This was powerful gift. This was God at work in wonderful ways. Trusting this, I was able to rest in the mystery of all that God is and all that God does. With me or without me.
This time around, may we all receive the mystery.
May we stand still in this mystery of what God has done and continues to do in the lives of our beloved ones.
A mystery of promise and hope which is always just a breath away.
If only. If only I, if only you, if only you and I together could stand still long enough just to receive it, how richly blessed we would know ourselves then.
- Not speaking.
- Not doing.
- Just being.
For all the speaking, all the doing, all the rest is meaningless without the promise and hope which carries it all. Which carries us all.
May this All Saints Sunday be this for you.
May the music carry you.
May the familiar words hold you, filling you will comfort and confidence.
May the flickering candles remind you of the light Christ is and ever shall be: a light which we, in turn, hold and carry and pass along.
Oh, may the mystery of promise and hope and grace surround you and fill you.
And may you have at least a moment when you can simply stand still and receive it.
- How is All Saints Sunday meaningful to you?
- What communicates the mystery of this day to you? Is it the music? The candles? The words spoken and shared? The receiving of the bread and the wine?
- What would it look like for you to stand still in this mystery this year? Are there other times you might be called to do so? When would that be? Waht would that look like for you?