Churches, who are made up of people, have a way of complicating things. Take All Saint’s Day. Some churches celebrate the lives of all saints or all Christians who have died. Some only celebrate the lives of beatified saints and martyrs or those who have been granted special sainthood status. Other churches celebrate the departed faithful who are languishing in purgatory or haven’t yet reached heaven … as if anyone this side of eternity even has that information.
Even though All Saint’s Day is technically November 1, in the United Methodist Church we celebrated it on the first Sunday of November. I worked with my worship team to make this a very special Sunday. Of course we knew the parishioners who died during the previous year, but I also kept track of others who died. If someone mentioned that a friend or family member elsewhere died, I made a note so we would remember them on All Saints Sunday. All their names were read with each toll of the bell. It was always an emotional and moving service and one of the best attended services of the year!
We don’t handle death and grief well at all in our culture. The church, which should be safe place where we can be open about death and grief is sometimes the most painful place for those grieving. Thoughtless phrases and verses are spoken to those grieving and judgments are made about someone’s faith if they don’t seem to be “snapping out of it” in a timely manner. When a faithful church member stopped coming to church after the death of a spouse, partner or child, it usually was because someone had said something that was hurtful. Sadly, the offender often never knew.
A day to remember those who’ve died the previous year isn’t much, but it is something. We need opportunities to normalize events, like death, that are part of life. We need to be reminded it’s OK to remember. It’s OK to be sad or miss them. It’s important to acknowledge the simple gifts left behind by those who’ve gone before us, to be aware of the blessings from those who walk with us, and be mindful of the legacy we will leave when we too are gone.