This morning at our parish we are commemorating the Remembrance Day, the end of the “war to end all wars”, a little ahead of Nov 11. We are also still within the octave of All Saints; that is, the eight days following a major feast, in which it is customary to continue to reflect on its theme. So today, we can also mark the complementary feast to All Saints, the day of All Souls (Nov. 2), and quite appropriately, expand the scope of our act of remembrance, calling to mind not only the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice in times of wars, but also all of the departed who are now with God. We will remember today all those “whom we love but see no longer”; those who have touched our lives, sustained us by their gifts, enhanced our parishes and families, and maybe at some point, somehow literally and figuratively, saved us.
I have a book which is a collection of remarkable stories about World War I, and its opening chapter creates a beautiful combination of the focus of All Souls with Remembrance Day. It’s very brief, and you may find in the image above the text of this blog post. What a perfect illustration of the saving power of love. Of the true connection that is stronger than death, never fails or fades, and anticipates our final communion with the family of all saints -- all souls gathered forever “in the hand of God” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1).
Yes, love has the power to save lives. Yet, we are not the ones to save the departed from life without God. It is not by our prayers that they enter into the eternal presence of God, but only by his/her divine mercy and grace extended to all: “I will reject no one who comes to me,” said Jesus in the gospel of John (6:37). The Anglican church, as early as its inception in the 1500s, has dismissed the doctrine of purgatory (which itself only developed in the 11th century). We trust in God’s love and care to span our existence on “both sides of the valley” (Ps 23).
But we also believe that the God with whom we will have this eternal communion is an infinite being; whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered. Thus, our growth in perfection, which begins in the earthly life and continues in the life to come, must also be infinite - the race can never be fully run, and the course - never completed. And so we offer our prayers for the souls of our loved ones; for their state of an ever increasing peace, restoration, and rest in the arms of God. In doing so, we magnify our own hope in one day achieving the same perfection, the same extent of the Beatific Vision; as much as God will afford us in his/her divine mercy.
We have all been confronted with the shortness and uncertainty of human life, and the daily reality of death, though no metaphor can fully convey it to us until we cross that final threshold. However, an even greater reality is that of salvation, the eternal life in the presence of God, which is also to be fully revealed to us only on the last day; and yet which confronts us daily “as if in the mirror, dimly”, as we strive to build the kingdom of God here on earth. Not all of us are called to do so by offering the ultimate sacrifice to save an entire nation. But in every act of self-giving, big or small, minute by minute, we all participate in the divine life of God, whose own self-sacrificial nature manifested itself in the person of Jesus Christ, as we offer God’s saving grace to each other - now and forever.
Most merciful God, who hast been pleased to take unto thyself our brethren departed: grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that having served thee faithfully in this world, we may, with all faithful Christian souls, be joined hereafter to the company of thy blessed Saints in glory; and that encouraged by their examples and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be found meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, All Souls Day collects)