For all the saints

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, October 29, 2019

By Scott Baker

This time of year, I find myself thinking a lot about my grandparents, the last of whom passed away almost 20 years ago. I’m certain that it is the pending Holy Day of All Saints’ Day that does it. My last living grandmother died my last semester of seminary. Since that time every year around All Saints’ Day I can’t help but to think about her and all those who I love/d but see no more. I find myself thinking about their unique characteristics: their smiles, mannerisms, senses of humor, etc. Most of all, I find myself reflecting on the many life-lessons they taught me, either in word or in deed. Yet, my reminiscing goes beyond them to friends and the many parishioners who have since gone on to their greater reward and who I still remember with fondness and a tinge of grief and mourning.

Like Christmas, All Saints’ Day has its roots in a pagan ritual. Just as Saturnalia was usurped by the early Christians, so too was All Saints’ Day as Christianity’s answer to Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration. “Samhain was the Celtic pagan’s marking the beginning of winter and the first day of the New Year. This time of the ingathering of the harvest and the approach of winter apparently provided a reminder of human mortality. It was a time when the souls of the dead were said to return to their homes. Bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. Samhain was a popular festival at the time when the British Isles were converted to Christianity. The church ‘adopted’ this time of celebration for Christian use by observing All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Hallows’ Eve on Oct. 31.”(An Episcopal Diction of the Church>A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians, Don S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum editors. ©1999)

Many cultures have similar celebrations to All Saints’ Day. Perhaps, the one that more recently has come into the cultural consciousness is Día De Muertos — The Day of the Dead in Latino culture, although there are others in many different cultures. People all over the world remember those they love/d but see no more as a way to connect to the past and to take their loved ones’ influence and impressions in their lives into the future.

In our consumeristic culture we all too often lose sight of All Saints’ Day in the wake of all the candy, macabre decoration, and costumes of Halloween. As much as I enjoy the festivities and frivolity of Halloween, I can’t help but to see it as the doorstep to the all-important day of All Saints’. The day where I have my thoughts focused on all those who have had such a profound impact on my life. I give thanks to God for blessing the world with their love and gifts. I pray every year around this time, as our Book of Common Prayer so eloquently puts it, that they will “go from strength to strength in God’s nearer presence.”

Meanwhile, you and I are on this side of the mortal plane going about our lives. If we are blessed, we will take with us down life’s path the influence of those who have shaped us to be the people that we are; those we love/d but see no more. Perhaps, every once in a while, we’ll pause and give thanks to God for their love and influence on our lives. When we have finally run the race set before us, we can look with hope to a time when we will join the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), the communion of the saints, where we too may go from strength to strength in God’s nearer presence.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.