notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
Good Shepherd 30/10/2005
Wisdom 3.1-9 , John 14.1-6
While we worship God in here this evening we are aware that outside children, some of them with their parents or older brothers and sisters, are out playing trick or treat. We might not immediately think so, but there is a very close connection between what they are doing and what we are doing. All Soul's Day and All Saints Day and the Eve of All Hallow's (Halloween) are all part of a three-day celebration of commemorations of the dead which goes way back before the Christian era. The Celts of northern Europe held a three day festival known as Samhain, during which they paid particular attention to the memory of their dead. The Church Christianized this festival by giving new meanings to the customs of Halloween night, and by offering a vision of the Communion of Saints that is remembered on All Saints Day. Tonight's service is our contribution to this time of remembering. 
Here tonight we commemorate in a special way the souls of the faithful departed and ask God to take care of these precious souls. This puts into practice what the church calls the Communion of saints: death has taken from us those we love; yet there can be no real separation from those who have died in the grace of God. The bond of love continues to unite us, holding the people of earth and the people of heaven in one loving embrace. As we remember them tonight we have faith that they remember us; and their good influence on our lives remains.
When we talk about saints we assume we're talking about the great people of faith. Those who put their lives on the line for their faith, those who made amazing sacrifices to witness for God. But most Christians who have departed from this life were neither martyrs or confessors they weren't particularly distinguished by their death or by their way of life. they were straightforward, ordinary people who nevertheless made a great impact on those around them. Who when they left us, were greatly missed. Are greatly missed. They are our saints.
So there is sadness in tonight's service as we remember our faithful departed, but it is not a sadness of those who have no hope - it is filled with faith in a blessed resurrection and the eternal joy that awaits us all. Jesus presents himself to us as the Good Shepherd who does not want to lose even one of His sheep - He wants to lead them all to salvation. Rather than an end, death is, for the Christian, a door opening into eternity, a door which admits a soul into eternal life. ģIn my Father's house there are many rooms - I go to prepare a place for you."
All Souls Day makes us mindful not only of the death of our dear ones but also of our own death. The saints experienced it, the disciples experienced it, and Jesus Himself willed to undergo it. But at times like this the Church is there to encourage us and to remind us that while the life of the body may die, the life of the spirit and the good works accomplished during life remain.
These good works accompany the soul in its journey from this life, and they are precious in the eyes of the Lord. These good works are what bind us to our lost loved ones still today. Stopping to consider it in this place, at this time, we might realise just how much of the lives of our saints have stayed with us even though they have physically gone: their influence, their warmth, their characteristics which we see in other family members and friends. The way we live now, which is still influenced by the way they encouraged us to live.
We must remember, though, that the saints were not perfect. That is something which our modern-day secular Halloween reminds us of: all of us have a darker side. The church at its best also recognises this. We mustn't forget that even the greatest saints were also sinners. And that adds another side to our commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed. When we ask God to take care of these precious souls we might need to ask God to bring healing to any hurts which still exist between us and them; to any regrets we may have about things unsaid or undone between us and those who have gone before us.
This is another aspect of the Communion of saints: because there can be no real separation from those who have died in the grace of God we can continue to pray about our relationship with them; and that includes righting any wrongs which remain.
To close in the words of a Jewish Prayer:
This day in sacred convocation we remember those who gave us life. We remember those who enriched our lives with love and beauty, kindness and compassion, thoughtfulness and understanding. We renew our bonds to those who have gone the way of all earth. As we reflect upon those whose memory moves us this day, we seek consolation, and the strength and the insight born of faith. Tender as a parent with a child, the Lord is merciful. God knows how we are fashioned, remembers that we are dust. Our days are as grass; we flourish as a flower in a field. The wind passes over it and is gone, and no one can recognize where it grew. But the Lord's compassion for us, the Lord's righteousness to children's children, remain, age after age, unchanging. 
 Early part of this sermon based on notes in SouthBear's Anglican Lectionary Calendar
 Jewish prayer link: Chapel of the Chimes website