The end of October and beginning of November see a jumble of holidays which have as much cultural as religious observance.
All Saints Day, November 1, was established early in the fifth century as a way to honor those who had died and were believed to be in Heaven. It continues to be a major celebration in Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches with many European countries treating it as a legal holiday.
The celebration of All Souls Day emerged later and is observed differently depending on one’s theological and denominational position. For those of us in the Anglican tradition, it is known as Commemoration of All Faithful Departed and is seen as an extension of All Saints Day. In the Roman Church, it provides an opportunity for the faithful to pray for the departed who have been baptized but who did not have a chance to make a confession prior to their death and are thus consigned to purgatory.
The Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) extends over a three day period from All Saints Eve through All Souls is a cultural holiday popular throughout Mexico and among people of Mexican heritage and is a celebration intended to support those who have died in their continuing spiritual journey. Brought to a popular audience through the recent Pixar film Coco, it is not the Mexican equivalent of Halloween.
Halloween (the Eve of All Hallows – an archaic name for All Saints) was most often explained as the way Christians aided the souls of the departed whose names were offered at the first Mass of All Saints at evening, the Biblical beginning of the day. As those names were “read into Heaven,” people left out gifts of food to help the spirits on their way (or to keep them from haunting those homes, depending on who you listen to). In reality, the practice probably dates back to Celtic harvest festivals known as Samhain, or “summer’s end.” These days, of course, it has far more to do masquerade and Mars bars than it does with the transition to life everlasting.
It is not surprising that our thoughts turn to the realm of the departed as we watch the earth’s greenery slowly ebb with the advance of autumn (at least in the northern hemisphere). Unfortunately, we have encrusted our thinking about this time with a series of intellectual and speculative overlays that lean more toward our ideas of worthiness and merit than toward Divine grace. For far too long, religious people have insisted that access to the nearer presence of God is dependent upon human behaviors, decisions, and commitments rather than on God’s free and undeserved gift. A persistent hangover of the ancient heresy known as Pelagianism, such thinking demands that Heavenly reward is tied to merit.
It is so much harder to accept that we receive because of God’s goodness, not because of our own. Doing so would insist that we might not be as worthy as we would like to think, a suggestion that demands a healthy dose of critical self-assessment.
The words which drew me to the Episcopal Church more than half a century ago were found in our then current Prayer Book – that the act of Christ’s self offering was the “one, full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction and oblation for the sins of the whole world,” and I later came to rejoice in Saint Paul’s assertion that there is nothing in creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. My sin cannot cancel out God’s love for me; in fact there is no sin so heinous that it inhibits God from drawing us close either in this moment or in any future age.
Something worth celebrating, no matter which day you choose to observe.
St. Luke’s delegates Jim Hart and Sid Welch will be attending the annual Convention of the Diocese of Oregon this week with our clergy. We will report the significant results of the Convention back to the congregation next week.
You will soon be receiving a letter from the Chair of our Stewardship Committee, Linda Simmons, inviting you to prayerfully consider your commitment to St. Luke’s for 2019. As stewards of the resources entrusted to you by God and of our parish church, we would remind you that we depend entirely on the pledges of our members to conduct our ministry. As the congregation approaches a new chapter in our life, your pledges will determine the strength and vitality of our continued life.
All About Episcopalians, our next segment of the Wednesday Adult Forum, will begin on November 7 at 7:00 pm in the Birch Room. Among other things, we’ll be sharing a nice little book called Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Churchby Bishop Andrew Doyle. Our sessions are intended to prepare folks for Confirmation or Reception at Bishop Hanley’s Visitation on December 9, but will be of interest to every member of the parish.
SAVE THE DATE! On November 18, we will celebrate the successful completion of our Stewardship Campaign with a gala (aren’t they all?) Pot Luck luncheon immediately after church. At that celebration, we will explore possible avenues of action for St. Luke’s next mission focus. Please plan to join us and share a bountiful dish with your parish family.
In the “Minister At Your Own Risk” department, we’re tickled to share with you the following picture of our intrepid youth group leader who discovered first hand the Perils of Parish Work.