Spend time remembering your special saintsWhere's the Faith? Thursday, November 10th, 2011
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
Though historical information is sketchy, some studies believe the practice of trick or treating comes from the Middle Ages, when the poor would go from door to door receiving food in exchange for their prayers for the families’ departed, in order to help them get into heaven and out of purgatory. In some places it was called souling, and took place Nov. 1, or Hallowmass; with the prayers for the deceased being offered the next day, Nov. 2, All Souls Day.
This idea of “praying for the dead” has come to fascinate me. As a young, then conservative evangelical, I just couldn’t understand this. They’re dead. What good can you do them? It seemed to me, at least at the time, to be one of the most irrational and illogical things a person could do. But, as a person who likes science fiction, I should have been more open-minded.
Many of us believe that prayer is powerful and makes a difference – starting with the person doing the praying. So praying for those who are no longer with us may be a way of resolving issues we had with the departed as we meditate on the person before God. It may change us as we remember those who are gone. For many, it’s a powerful opportunity for healing and closure.
Another thing that opened my mind about this is my constantly evolving understanding of who God is. God keeps on getting bigger and bigger. The “I am that I am” statement of God found in Exodus 3:14 is one that challenges me each time I think or meditate on it. “I be that I be” is another translation of the verse.
Well, you recently had three days that you may or may not have celebrated. Oct. 31, Halloween or All Hallows Eve; the evening before All Saints Day (Dia de los Santos) Nov. 1, with its prayers and celebrations in honor of the saints; and All Soul’s Day (Dia de los Muertos), Nov. 2, when, according to the medieval Catholic Church, those who have died while still in their sin await purification and admittance to heaven.
It’s easy to see how this focus on death led to the ghosts and spooks and ghouls that were, and are, associated with the dead; it’s these symbols of our fears of death and, even, the process of dying, that we may have seen prowling our streets last Monday evening asking for candy.
When it comes to our religious traditions associated with death, our funerals can be strange things. Have you noticed how the things you hear said at a funeral reveal a lot about how the person saying them feels, or believes, about God and death?
“God needed her more than we did.”
“God took him.”
“It was their time.”
“They are better off with God.”
I don’t know about you, but I still get angry about death. I know that to many of us, death is just a natural part of the cycle of life, and that it’s inevitable. One reason it angers me is the seemingly unfair way in which it happens to some, often too soon, or when the person has so much more to do with their life. Sometimes it angers me because it takes away the chance of reconciliation or the hope that a relationship will ever be what one may need it to be. And sometimes it seems just plain unfair, and there’s pain and suffering involved, and I have to ask, “Why God?”
We have another ritual we share every Sunday with other Saints around the world, Holy Communion. This too, is a ritual about death. The death of Jesus. In it, Jesus asks us to remember. We should also remember the reason Jesus and his disciples had gathered was to observe the Passover Seder, the time of remembering the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.
Jews gathered for Passover, often in family groups, which this band of disciples certainly had become. And like any family gathering, though we have no record of it, I am sure the talk around the table also included talk of family and friends who had observed the Seder with them before, including some who were no longer alive.
I think it is appropriate and needful to spend time remembering those who have gone before us. What can we learn from them? How can their faith journey enlighten our own? What do we need to resolve in our relationship to them now that they are no longer with us?
Every one of us has faced death. Some of us in the death of family and friends. A few of us in close calls with our own potential death. These saints that have gone before us still bring meaning to our faith, as individuals, and as a church.
I invite you to meditate on those who have gone before us, in your families of faith, as well as in your biological families. Their examples, their way of living faith. The meaning they gave, and still give our lives. What they taught us to do, or maybe not to do. If you want to say a prayer for, or about, these saints in your life, that’s OK. It may give you the opportunity to see them, and what you can learn from them, in a whole new way.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and those things that so easily distract us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Don’t grow weary, or lose heart – you’re surrounded by your special saints cheering you on and encouraging you. Amen.
If you don’t have a place to spend time with your family of origin or your family of choice, consider joining friends here at The Met. We will be hosting a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day. Call us (619-521-2222) or check us out on the web themetchurch.org for more info.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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