We celebrated All Saints and All Souls days today. beginning with the words from Ecclesiasticus 44 which tells us to remember the famous but also to know that God remembers those we have forgotten – all lives count:
1 Let us now praise famous men,
And our fathers that became the father of us.
7 All these were honoured in their generations,
And were a glory in their days.
9 And some there be, which have no memorial;
Who are perished as though they had not been,
10 But these were men of mercy,
And their glory shall not be blotted out.
So we began by remembering and celebrating some saints who have gone before us…
Saint Therese of Lisieux – whose remains were visited by pilgrims across the country 3 years ago. She reminded us that the kingdom of God grows by the little things that we do and that none of us is too insignificant to change the world for Christ. In living simply in community she inspires us to love and aspire to much in the simple things of life.
St. Francis of Assisi – who reminded us that all of creation shares its origins in our Creator – that everything God has made is our brother or sister – and who continues to challenge us today to nurture and protect the world that we live in.
St. Maximilian Kolbe – who hid and sheltered Jews at the time of the Holocaust , then ministered to others as a prisoner in Auschwitz, and eventually laid down his life in place of another who had been selected to die. His suffering and sacrifice inspire us to live the hope that we share with him.
St. Teresa of Avila – who brought us words of enduring comfort for the journey when she reminded us that nothing should disturb or frighten us, for all things are passing and God never changes.
St. Stephen – who was the first to lay down his life for his insistence that Jesus is Lord and whose costly payment has inspired and continues to inspire all persecuted for their faith.
St. Ignatius Loyola – who inspired us to use our imaginations in meditating on the Bible – and opened up all manner of opportunities for God to speak to so many of us causing untold celebration and changed lives.
St. Aidan of Lindisfarne – who, as a boy, threw the washed up starfish from the beach into the sea after a night of fierce storms. When challenged that he was making almost no difference for the vast numbers of starfish dying, he replied that it had made a difference to the ones that he did rescue. He inspires us to make a difference and we remember him with thanks for creating the monastery on Holy Island and for being so significant in the cleansing Celtic Christian revival in England.
St. Thomas – whose shortcomings and failures and initial scepticism gave way to the powerful affirmation of Christ’s resurrection and inspirational statement of faith ‘My Lord and my God’
Martin Luther King – who led the peaceful protests that overturned the racial divide in the southern United States and reminds us of the power of non-violent resistance and of the possibility of resurrection wherever there is the seeming of triumph of evil.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who believed in the face of evil, in a better way and who displayed so much courage in opposing the Nazi regime. He inspires so many today through his writings and example and his wrestling for justice and integrity.
Helder Camara – who refused to be quiet but spoke out on behalf of the oppressed and denounced the corruption of the powerful to the point of giving up his life for the values of the kingdom. He inspires us to continue to be Christ’s voice for justice.
Brother Lawrence – the monk who learnt how to find God in the busyness of the day and in the mundane washing of pots and pans. He reminds us that we don’t need more time for prayer, but that we can meet with God in the now of any part of our day. He speaks to us of integration in our lives.
Mother Teresa – who stooped to serve the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor, inspiring the world with he words of wisdom and love, despite years of spiritual doubt and uncertainty. She speaks to us of service of the highest cost.
The writer to the Hebrews reminded us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
We considered what purpose the two days had for us today and reflected that we see things through the distortion of time, but that there is a greater reality in terms of eternity. This is our hope and our comfort, our challenge and our inspiration.
Walk to the beech tree:
We read the poem below and made it our own naming to God all those who we were remembering, who have inspired our faith and had a part to play in our journey. We included those people in our walking through leaves, by the river. Giving thanks for each one.
All Souls’ Day
Let’s go our old way
by the stream, and kick the leaves
as we always did, to make
the rhythm of breaking waves.
This day draws no breath –
shows no colour anywhere
except for the leaves – in their death
brilliant as never before.
Yellow of Brimstone Butterfly,
brown of Oak Eggar Moth –
you’d say. And I’d be wondering why
a summer never seems lost
if two have been together
witnessing the variousness of light,
and the same two in lustreless November
enter the year’s night…
The slow-worm stream – how still!
Above that spider’s unguarded door,
look – dull pearls…Time’s full,
brimming, can hold no more.
Next moment (we well know,
my darling, you and I)
what the small day cannot hold
must spill into eternity.
So perhaps we should move cat-soft
meanwhile, and leave everything unsaid,
until no shadow of risk can be left
of disturbing the scatheless dead.
Ah, but you were always leaf-light.
And you so seldom talk
as we go. But there at my side
through the bright leaves you walk.
And yet – touch my hand
that I may be quite without fear,
for it seems as if a mist descends,
and the leaves where you walk do not stir.
At the beech tree:
An African tradition is to toast ancestors by pouring a drink onto the ground.
We poured out a little wine as toast to those who had gone before us who we love and give thanks for, saying:
To our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in Christ
ALL: We thank you!
Soul cakes prayer time:
On All Souls’ Day in times past, children begged for and received “soul cakes”. The cakes were given in return for prayers for the donor’s soul:
“A soul-cake; a soul-cake, have mercy on all Christian souls, for a soul-cake.”
This is said to have led to the trick or treating tradition, which originally carried connotations of being an opportunity to pray for one’s neighbour!
We ate soul cakes and made each mouthful a prayer for all those known to us – our neighbours – who are struggling with bereavement and ill-health.
We then finished with Steve’s words written for under the branches of the huge weeping beech – reminding us once again of our interconnectedness…
Divine Entanglement with Bread and Wine
Look up, all around, entangled and surrounded, mind-blowingly all enveloping – God’s breathing, God’s love sweeping down and curling around.
Acknowledged blessing and unacknowledged blessing, love noticed and unnoticed, blessings overt and covert. Incidences and coincidences and God-incidences too complex for us to sort through and untangle. We are caught – in the web. God behind us, God in us, God before us.
Surrounded and enveloped by God’s care, those blessings obvious to us now and those blessings only to be known about in the future and those blessings perhaps never to be known by us.
God at work in us and in those around us and in those we love and in those we despair of. God’s love touching us, our ground, our lives through His humanity and love incarnated in Jesus.
We are surrounded in our space and time by roots, by branches, by leaves, by this living and growing 360 degree, multi dimensional, 24/7, God who loves. We are not tree hugging, but we are God- hugged.
And so while we are still indifferent, ignorant, hostile, unblissfully unaware, God loves us and in our hands we hold the bread and wine which expresses, encapsulates and enfleshes that Jesus love.
So why us? Why are we invited to this banquet under this umbrella of God’s love? Because we deserve it, merit it, lead good lives and have good theology? No, because God loves because he loves because he loves….
And so together as one body within God’s enveloping, connected with the worldwide family, we eat bread.
And so together as one body within God’s enveloping, connected with the worldwide family, we drink wine.
And so we have communed with God in this banquet but we do not now take our leave of Him. These roots and branches encircle and will not let us go even though we depart from this holy ground. He goes before us, marks our steps and our way.
And so we pray for all:
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.
Thanks to all for this time together – it felt special – as ever!