I really love this time of year . . . things are changing . . .
When I lived “up north” it was the changing of the color of the leaves. Green was great for the spring and summer. But after six months of hot weather and green, those bright autumn colors and the cool, crisp night air – for me that change-over was always really invigorating.
At this point in the year, here in Florida at St. Nathaniel’s, we’ve made it through the hottest and wettest part of the year, and there’s just a hint of coolness in the air in the morning. The trees are still green, of course. But did you notice? The green of the altar frontal and the priest’s vestments changed today.
After that long period after Pentecost which was almost all ordinary green, we’re coming into the end of the church year. So we have white on All Saints’ Sunday today – then we’ll go back to green for just a couple of weeks before white again on Thanksgiving and white on the last Sunday of the church year – that’s Christ the King Sunday.
The first of December is just four weeks away – that’s the beginning of the church year, the beginning of Advent – and the color changes again, this time to blue.
As the colors begin to change, the pace of life here in the parish is picking up. We’re seeing more familiar faces returning in recent weeks – seasonal friends coming back to their Florida homes. The size of the Communion of the Saints of St. Nathaniel’s is beginning to swell once again!
In this yearly cycle, the church follows the cycle of ebb and flow, living and dying, a falling away before change brings new things to life. This last month of the church cycle, the month of November, is sometimes called the Month of the Holy Dead It begins with All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween) and All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
As I said, I really love this time of year – probably because of the sense that something new is going to happen. . . . And isn’t that what falling in love is all about? We’re first attracted to someone or something – caught up in a sense of the newness and the excitement. But an abiding love – a deeper love – comes only after you discover the reality. And sometimes it’s a harsh reality, hiding behind first appearances.
These three days, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, present us with a stark reality – the reality that death is real – that sooner or later death comes knocking at our doors.
For us in our present culture, Halloween comes somewhat more gently and delightfully in the guise of cute kids dressed up in all kinds of costumes, begging for candy or else the threat of tricks. But early Christians knew Halloween as a night when you stared at death – and you stared down death.
Most of us live far removed from death for much of our lives, but sooner or later the harsh reality is that we will encounter death face-to-face. I don’t mean for this all to be totally depressing. And, indeed, the answer to Halloween is not depression and fear. The answer is All Saints’ and All Souls’. Like Easter, these are days of Resurrection and Life. All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days remind us that we can stare death in the face and – through faith in Jesus Christ — we can emerge triumphant!
On All Saint’s Day we celebrate all the Christians who have gone before us – the ones who have claimed their place in glory by living lives of hope and faith – the ones who have been true to the life God called them to live.
At the same time All Saint’s Day is not just for dead martyrs and confessors – it’s for all of us. And All Saints’ Day is not a celebration of perfection – even the most esteemed saints would never claim that they lived their lives perfectly.
Being a saint comes through the promise that Christ makes to us when we are baptized – the promise that in baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death” by baptism we share in his resurrection. . . and through baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Paul reminds us of this in the letter to the Ephesians: “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”
This letter is addressed to us, not just to those early Christians in Ephesus. When we were baptized we were signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever. It opened the door to what Paul calls “a glorious inheritance among the saints.”
When I came back to the Church after decades away (This was when I first came to the Episcopal Church.) it was soon after my husband had died. One of the things that grabbed my attention immediately was that line in the Creed about the Communion of Saints. The idea was totally new to me – that mystery of how Christ draws us to himself – into one holy, saintly body – the mystery we celebrate on All Saint’s Day. . .
On All Saint’s Day we do two things: we celebrate all those who have already claimed their place in glory in the Communion of Saints . . . and we claim that same hope and promise for ourselves.
And just as we claim a place for ourselves in the Communion of Saints, we can also make a claim for others as well. That’s what we do on All Souls’ Day – we pray for people we know – people whose lives have touched ours.
On All Souls’ Day we remember spouses . . . parents . . . brothers and sisters . . . children. . . friends and neighbors. We claim Christ’s promises for all those “we love but see no longer,” because even in death God’s love continues to heal and reconcile and forgive and restore. Love is stronger than death . . .
On All Souls’ Day we claim Christ’s promise of glory, name-by-name: Paul, Manny, Bob, Ken, Elsie, Elliott, Shirley . . . and all the others . . . because they were claimed by Christ in baptism, just as we were.
I love these days in the church, even while the Communion of Saints remains a mystery. But more and more I love All Saints and All Souls Days because they are about people that I love – and about the promises of hope and glory that we all share with them.