Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints and All Souls are not the same

Before I went to seminary, I went to a church that celebrated All Saints Sunday, as it should be, on the first Sunday after November 1. So that's good. What wasn't good was that the theme of the celebration was the dead friends and relatives in our lives. We were encouraged to bring in photos of them, and include their names in a Book of Remembrance to be read during the liturgy.

This effectively confused two separate liturgies: All Saints' (Nov. 1 and/or the Sunday following Nov. 1) and the commemoration of All Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls' (Nov. 2).

It really does make a difference in the lives of your parishioners to make the distinction clear, as it provides a great opportunity to teach and proclaim an accurate understanding of what we know and do not know about the afterlife.

St. Michael the Archangel - Patron Saint
of the Faithful Departed
There are lots of things that we say as Christians about the afterlife, and most of them are uncertain at best. The most ancient and orthodox view is that we die and then lie "somewhere" awaiting the day of the final judgement. At that final judgement, those who embrace God's love will enter paradise (or the New Jerusalem, established in a redeemed earth), while those who rejected God's love will have their choice honored by God, and they will be cut off from the divine presence.

We are all of us in the process of becoming like Christ, or like God. The Orthodox call this theosis. The Methodists call it sanctification. We are all somewhere on the spectrum between where we started, and God. And when we die, some of us are much farther along than others. The ones who are quite far along we call saints. But we do not all die as saints. Some of us have more work to do in the grave, more progress to make, and more theosis to undergo.

So we pray for the dead, for their benefit and also for the healthy process of mourning that continues in us. We celebrate the saints of the church, and ask them to pray for us. All our prayers arise like incense to the throne of God, and Christ, who died and rose again for us, for the saints, and for the faithful departed, delights in our mutual fellowship.