Today, we have gathered here on the Eve of All Hallows, observed since at least the 4th century. First, Eastern Churches commemorated the lives of martyrs on the Sunday after Pentecost. Western churches followed suit, and by the early Middle Ages, British Christians celebrated it on Nov 1, which makes sense in light of the tendency in Northern Europe to connect major Christian feasts to the quarter and cross-quarter days of the astrological and agrarian calendar. As such, Halloween is about halfway between the fall equinox (i.e., Michaelmas) and winter solstice (i.e., Christmas), coinciding with Samhain (pronounced Sau-ihn), and showing religious syncretism of associated traditions. Also in the 8th century, Pope Gregory IV confirmed this date for the whole Western Church, and broadened the scope to celebrate all remarkable Christians, regardless of how they died. All Souls' Day (Day of the Dead) began to be observed on Nov 2, extending the commemoration even further to all other Faithful Departed. Indeed, people who influence our faith the most are often our “unremarkable” beloved.
Yes, historically well-known saints showed extraordinary love for Christ in service and sacrifice, despite the circumstances and even in death, inspiring generations of believers. But, what we all share with these exemplary people is, first, God’s image, in which we have been created, and second, the guidance of the Holy Spirit under which we live. We do so quite independently of our inclination to name these realities in Christian terms; but Christians also believe, of course, that life on earth has eternal consequences. And, it is the ministry of all the saints (those already in heaven, and still on earth) to help others become partners in the shared life in/with God. How does one share in the life of God? To both Christians and Jews, at least part of the answer has always been through righteousness. The views on how to obtain righteousness ranged from divine wisdom, to effort, to grace, to a combination of these; but, there has always been a link between righteousness and immortality.
We sometimes think that Judaism stopped at righteousness for the sake of the Law, and that resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul are Jesus’ teachings. Actually, neither idea is quite true. Yes, for the Hebrew authors, to be righteous meant to uphold our side of the covenantal living by loving God and neighbours. And yes, in quoting this line from Leviticus, the prophet/rabbi Jesus insists that we do so in order to condition ourselves to living in the, imminently arriving, Kingdom of God. But, neither does Jesus say anything about heaven, nor is the OT silent about immortality. The one who first talks about eternal life in the CE is St Paul, who, I’m sure, agreed with Jesus and OT writers that we must love God and neighbours, but offered the next step of the puzzle: our immortality is secured because Jesus is glorified in his resurrection. The reason he was able to do so, a few decades after Jesus, was that he, like other proponents of Apocalyptic Judaism, believed in bodily -- and consequently, spiritual -- resurrection. It is St John who brings it full circle: Jesus, as the Son of God, is the one who eternally exists in glory, and participates in creating and ordering this world, and every life in it.
But, the connection between righteousness and immortality are not only already found in, but constitute the special emphasis of the 7 sapiential books we’ve been reading recently. On the last two Sundays, we read Job, and before that, Prov and the Sg of Sol, which I tied to Ecc, and of course we always read Ps. The only book we haven’t read is Sir. Many of these texts are sometimes attributed to Solomon, but they were written centuries after his reign. Today’s reading from the Wis of Sol is particularly interesting in that it is the closest to Jesus’ time on the OT side of the Bible; deuterocanonical as it is, since it is not written in Hebrew, and relies on the Greek translations of OT texts. The author wrote in Greek because he lived in Alexandria, in the 1st century BC. He knew of both the later non-canonical Jewish text called the book of Enoch, and of Greek philosophy. He wrote specifically to the Jews of his time and place, who were not only attracted to the mysterious and sophisticated Hellenistic teachings, but experienced hostility based on their own religion, which they were beginning to view as primitive and outdated (though still maintained close ties with Jerusalem). This book is set as the imaginary address of Solomon to other kings, and its first part instructs them about the opposite destinies awaiting the virtuous and the wicked, and encourages them to love righteousness, not only for the sake of becoming wise, but for their souls to be immortal.
We read from ch 3 on All Saints, as well as on All Souls, which in our context, we tie to the Remembrance Day; so, you will hear it again next week. The first 5 chapters of Wis speak to the suffering of the innocent, which we already saw as the focus of Job. This is important to keep pondering in light of All Saints and its origins in the feast of the martyrs; of which Jesus was one, and which he foretold each believer would be, to a degree, by bearing his cross and drinking of his cup. Here “Solomon” recounts the story of the tragic death of those who died for their virtuous observance of the Torah, which resulted from the plot of some ungodly men who wished to see if the righteous would remain faithful to the end. The book envisions suffering as the test of faith, but it goes further than Job in connecting the passing of such tests to immortality. As such, it presents the opposing view to that which prevailed in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Alexandria, known as the Epicurean position. The Epicureans strove to be rid of fear by discarding all illusions of God and denying any existence beyond the grave, and thus, eschewing any reason not to get away with what one can during one’s lifetime.
What do YOU think is the reason to persevere in goodness? What’s beyond this life? What is righteousness? What is conscience: a mechanism of persisting in ethics; or maybe, the place where Holy Wisdom (Spirit?) acts? Righteousness, glorification, union with God is a multidimensional reality that is affected in our lives over time, and exists outside of all Time. Job lived 140 years and died “old and full of days”; but, people also die at or before birth, and our loved ones we lose at various points. Nonetheless, all souls are in the hand of God. God glorifies us all at conception, baptism (or another point of realization of the purpose of life), and resurrection in the new heaven and new earth. In that time and place, there will be no sorrow and weeping, only God’s peace, which passes all understanding. Amen.