It’s the ending we all hope for, isn’t it? You and I who stood at gravesides some four days or four months or four years after the dirt has filled in the gaping wound in the ground before us and grass has grown up over it — only covering up the hurt — but not quite completely healing it. It’s the ending we all hope for, isn’t it? This one where the one we loved so is suddenly back with us now untouched by the illness, the suffering that perhaps marked their last days, their last moments. The one where breath is restored and color is back and life in all of its fullness returns. Indeed, when grief is so very hard we want it most of all, it seems to me…
I think of my dad every year as we approach All Saints’ Day again. Oh, by now his name joins a whole host of others who have marked and made me who I am, but he is the one who inevitably comes to mind first. He’ll have been gone 16 years in January. I visit his grave from time to time — indeed, I’m fortunate to live just a few miles away from the cemetery. But I have to say I’ve never gone with the expectation of the ending that Mary and Martha experienced with Lazarus so long ago. Even so, there are times when I get a glimmer of just what that might be.
So it was a few years back I found myself dreaming of him again — it happens still, from time to time. Now these have not yet been dreams with big messages or especially startling moments — just ordinary snapshots of life which perhaps repeated themselves a thousand times in those years when he was alive. This is how this particular dream played out. I was sitting at a computer — one of my sisters was in the same room with a television on. Suddenly in he walked as alive and energetic as he ever was before he got sick. I looked up to say ‘hello’ and he came over to me, laughing, and leaned down and pressed his face against mine. And his face was cold as though he’d been outside working and had just come inside. I woke up a few moments later feeling that cold on my cheek. It wasn’t long before I realized that what I felt was probably the cool October breeze coming through the open window, but in those first waking moments, I couldn’t be sure, not really.
To be sure, I wonder whenever one dreams like that — I wonder what happens to cause one to dream of ones we have loved in such a way that seems so very real. Are they so ingrained in our memories — in the very cells of our brains perhaps — that now and then it’s just like breathing that they are there again? Or is it something that happened the day before that brought him to mind again? Or is something going on in my life that I am yearning for that reminder of safety and security that he was for me as long as he lived? Or is it, as I do believe, simply the certainty that those whom we have loved and who have died, are held still in God’s tender care, and so never really leave us?
Still as wonderful as those sorts of dreams can be — and as real as they may still seem in our first waking moments — they are nothing compared to what Mary and Martha must have known when Lazarus came walking out of that tomb. That brief sensation of cold on my face? Only a faint shadow of the promise of life again with Jesus which we cling to which is foreshadowed in the Gospel story before us now.
All Saints Day is for all of this and more. It is, of course, for remembering those who have gone before — whose memories still enliven our dreams from time to time. But it’s not only for that. All Saints Day is also for celebrating for what is yet to come. It is for standing still in the promise of eternal life that is meant for all the Saints, for all God’s Holy Ones. Oh, I expect we’ll always go to cemeteries with no expectation of the sort of ending that Mary and Martha knew. At the same time, you and I are called to live our entire lives in the hopeful expectation that one day there will be even more than what Mary and Martha and Lazarus experienced — for them and for all of us and all we have so loved. And between now and when that hope is realized — perhaps we’ll have cool breezes in the night— gifts of God in a way — to remind us of the promise of life and love, safety and joy, wonder and hope that by God’s gift belongs to us all.
- Who comes to your mind first this All Saints’ Day? What is the story of your remembering?
- I have noted two purposes for All Saint’s Day above. Can you think of others?
- What are the promises which resound in this week’s Gospel story? How does this story shape or inform your celebration of this day of the church year?
- How does the promise of eternal life come home to you in this and the other lessons assigned for this day? How do you experience glimmers of this promise in your life even now?