All Souls

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 — Week of Proper 26, Year One

All Faithful Departed

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)

Psalms 61, 62 (morning) // 68:1-20 (21-23) 24-36 (evening)

Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47

Revelation 11:1-19

Matthew 13:44-52

Today is the day when the church remembers all of those who have died in the hope of Christ’s resurrection. The Prayer Book names it the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.” Many call it “All Souls Day.” In Mexico and other Latin American cultures, they celebrate the “Day of the Dead.” Families and friends visit the cemeteries to talk to the souls of the departed, to tell stories and to decorate the tombs. It is a day to remember our ancestors and loved ones.

I’ve never speculated much on what happens to us after we die. My own experience of God in this life is so profoundly an experience of transcending love, that I am fine with whatever God wants, including nothing instead of something. When I have been close to nothing, when my sense of self has dissolved in contemplative prayer, the peace that remains when self-consciousness returns is so exquisite that it seems to me there is nothing to fear in the nothing. The nothing becomes the all.

We inherit complex traditions about the afterlife. For most of the Biblical period there was no tradition of resurrection and heaven. You can pick through scripture and find passages that speak of judgment and hell. You can pick through scripture and find confident expressions of universal eternal salvation. It seems to me that what people believe about life after death says more about them than it does about God.

I know how much I love my friends and family. Especially those who have seemed in some sense lost. If I in my fallen, selfish self can want eternal bliss for them, how much more expansive and healing is God’s love for them. I find it hard to imagine that God would lose anything that has an inkling of the good, and everyone has experienced some inkling of the good. In the light of God’s overwhelming love, all of our faults seem simultaneously exposed and healed — judgment and redemption.

Frederick Buechner seems to pick up a similar notion in his entry about Judas in his little “Biblical Who’s Who”:

There is a tradition in the early church, however, that [Judas’] suicide was based not on despair but on hope. If God was just, then he knew there was no question where he would be heading as soon as he had breathed his last. Furthermore, if God was also merciful, he knew there was no question either that in a last-ditch effort to save the souls of the damned as God’s son, Jesus would be down there too. Thus the way Judas figured it, Hell might be the last chance he’d have of making it to Heaven, so to get there as soon as possible, he tied the rope around his neck and kicked away the stool. Who knows?

In any case, it’s a scene to conjure with. Once again they met in the shadows, the two old friends, both of them a little worse for wear after all that happened, only this time it was Jesus who was the one to give the kiss, and this time it wasn’t the kiss of death that was given.

(Peculiar Treasures, HarperOne, 1993, p. 93)

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