Monday, November 3, 2008

All Saints and All Souls

Two of my favorite holy days occurred over the weekend: All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Originally the two were one celebration of the martyrs of the Christian faith, but at a later date the two celebrations were separated with November 1 as a celebration of ALL the Saints -- ALL who had walked the "pilgrim pathway" in faith and hope, providing examples to us and encouraging us that though the path may be challenging, it is indeed possible with God's help. November 2 then became a remembrance of All Souls -- all of those Saints who have come to the end of their journeys, and also of the martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When I think of the celebration of All Saints and All Souls, I can't help but think of the future return of Our Lord. I imagine the scene described by St. John in his Revelation:

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.... [One of the elders] said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9,14).

And I also remember the wonderfully encouraging words in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted" (Hebrews 12:1-3).

So I take joy in knowing that I am surrounded by the Saints. I rather imagine them grouped on the sidelines of a loooooong marathon course, cheering each of us over that final finish line into Heaven. Yes, it can be easy to stop along the course and take a sidetrack that ends up distracting and misdirecting us, but we try to keep to the "narrow path" that leads to the ultimate finish line. We may not be moving fast; in fact, we may only be crawling our way forward. But every inch along that pilgrim pathway that Christ first trod perfectly is a movement in the right direction, a direction pleasing to God and helpful to us, even of we're rather stuck in a valley for the time being.

From my devotional book The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime that Dru gave me, I've been praying this prayer during the Octave (eight-day celebration) of All Saints:

Almighty God, with whom still live the spirits of those who die in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful are in joy and felicity: I give you heartfelt thanks for the good examples of all your servants, who, having finished their course in faith, now find rest and refreshment. May I, with all who have died in the true faith of your Holy Name, have perfect fulfillment and bliss in your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. +

So I do wish you all a belated but joy-filled All Saints and All Souls Days, remembering those who have gone on before us and taking note of the warnings markers and words of encouragement they left behind them along the way. Let's celebrate that this path, well-worn by the Saints, is that much easier to follow because they walked it first, giving all glory and praise to Christ our Lord and Saviour.

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