All Souls’ Day 2011

The Columbarium on All Souls Day, November 2, 2011

A sermon for the Feast of All Souls.

“What happens when we die,” is a question asked in every age, by every culture. And yet, people answer it differently. Even people of faith. In the scriptures we’ve heard tonight there are various images.

The Wisdom of Solomon is a collection of sayings and teachings. Included in that first lesson is the idea that life on earth is a kind of testing. But those with faith endure and they grow in the love of God to shine like stars.

Psalm 130 invokes a separation one feels even in this life—in depression or disease or sickness—in which one feels like one is at the bottom of a deep pit or cavern, calling, crying for God to hear. And so we wait. We wait all through the night, but eventually comes mercy. Eventually comes redemption, plenteous redemption.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians offers encouragement that those who have died will rise again and the Gospel reminds us that just like when we are born into this world, God whispers “hello, beloved,” when we die, God is there, too, whispering our name in welcome, in love, and in joy.

In all our readings, God offers different images for “what happens when we die.” Through them all, God speaks to us the way we need to hear. God shows up in forms we can recognize. God blesses in ways that feel like blessings, and God heals us through love.

All Souls’ Day invites us to remember especially those saints we have known. We recall the strange ones, perhaps in our own families or among our friends. We recall the delightful ones, whose smile continues to warm us. We recall the fierce ones, who made us slightly afraid, but also made us better people. We remember the ones who perhaps gave us much of the meaning, the reason, the love of life. When they die, a part of us dies. But the Church reminds us that they are alive somewhere, and the Church reminds us that we, too, should feel ourselves resurrected, lifted up, and blessed.

Tonight’s Gospel comes just after Jesus has healed a man in the place called Bethsaida, or Bethesda. The religious leaders are trying to figure out how Jesus has been able to heal, and Jesus connects the power to heal with the power of God to heal. God heals us of every disease and even heals us from death. Jesus says, the time is coming, when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Those who hear, will live.

Those who hear the good News of God in Jesus Christ, live and live again.
Those who hear his message of peace and forgiveness, live and live again.
Those of us who believe that the saints are with God and smile upon us still, live and will shall live again.

This Mass gives thanks for all the saints and all the souls who have inspired us, touched us, loved us, and who are carried still within our hearts. This Mass also gives us power to love, strength to rise, and confidence that the resurrected Jesus Christ walks by our side and leads us into the love of eternal life.

Saint Paul reminds us that

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. . . . Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:51-57, passim).

Thanks be to God for the saints and the souls who surround us this night and forevermore.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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