(As I begin writing tonight, it is late on November 2, All Souls Day. Since I get an extra hour tonight when my clock falls back, I am indulging myself by spending it with you.)
As I was reflecting on the feast, the question arose in my mind: how often does a person go to a funeral and hear a eulogy where the deceased is remembered as a petty, selfish gossip? Or a dishonest, thieving scoundrel?
Not often, I imagine.
When people pass away, it is natural human tendency to remember the good things about them - the parts of them that we will miss. Often we overlook their faults, at least in the acute stage of grieving, so that even the drug dealer shot by the police is remembered for his ready smile or his kind heart.
And this is as it should be. Even those who travel the worst paths in life are children of God who had some good in them or brought a bit of happiness to someone's life.
Often too we grieve for the relationship we would like to have had with the deceased. The opportunity to have a closer relationship with that mother, father, sibling or friend is gone once the life ebbs from their body.
Or so it would seem.
After All Saints Day, I am glad there is day for the rest of us folks. And that is where All Souls Day comes in: a day of prayer and remembrance for the people who made some efforts at faith and goodness but stumbled a lot along the way before they died.
Most of the people we have loved fall into this category. Most of us will fall into it someday as well.
One might wonder why we should pray for the dead. Is it not over for them? Is some sort of begging or pleading on our part supposed to persuade God to let them into paradise despite their shortcomings?
Sadly, there have been periods in church history where such ideas were commonplace. The notion was that God had certain punishments prescribed for the person who dies in sin but that the living can pay off some of the debt by prayer, good works - or worse, paying money.
Such a forensic model of sin and salvation is sad, in my opinion, because it so completely misses the point. And in missing the point, people become lost from the Way.
Some will lose their direction because "paying off the debt" becomes more important than entering into relationship with God. Some may be lost because abuse of the spiritual "legal system" makes it appear to be just a scheme to make the church rich. Many more may be misled into thinking of God as a judge who exacts punishments instead of as a loving Father who longs to bring us home.
And the point is?
The true point is, I believe, that none of us are saved alone. We pray for the dead - as we pray for the living - because it draws us closer to each other and to God. In prayer for another, there is movement toward healing, there is a grace that makes whole what is broken.
The deaths of those we love may leave us with quite a variety of healing needs. We may need the healing of forgiveness. We may be challenged to forgive those who have died. Or we may ache for their forgiveness of us. We may need healing from damage inflicted on us by their sins. Or we may simply need healing from the sorrow that accompanies grievous loss.
Whatever our need, prayer with and for those who have died is the medicine our souls require in order to heal. As our prayer draws us closer to God, it simultaneously draws us closer to those who live on the other side, cleansing both them and us. We all become freer to know God in the fullness of His loving gifts.
As we enter this month of November, let us begin a "time of healing", walking together with each other and those who have passed into God's care.
Allow me to share some words that Scripture offered me today - and then an image received while walking with my camera.
On this mountain,
the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food.
On this mountain He will remove
the mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
He will destroy Death forever.
The Lord will wipe away
the tears from every cheek;
He will take away His people's shame
everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so.
That day, it will be said: See, this is our God
in whom we hoped for salvation;
the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.
We exult and we rejoice
that He has saved us.
(Isaiah 25: 6-9)
(God willing, I plan to write more on related themes through the month of November. Please check back or enter your e-mail address for notification of new posts. Many blessings...)