The arrival of November signals the beginning of a season of remembrance in our Church. On Nov. 1 – All Saints Day – we remember and give thanks for the witness of the heroes of our faith who have modelled the Christian life in unique and compelling ways. The lives of the great saints are often marked by struggle and sacrifice, yet they also point to the victory of Christ over sin and death.
Nov. 2 – All Souls Day – has a slightly different focus. On this day, we remember and give thanks for those closest to us who have “fought the good fight, finished their course and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Perhaps these are family members, friends or members of our church communities who have passed from this life and now stand on another shore and in a greater light. Some parishes invite people to write the names of loved ones in a book of prayers leading up to Nov. 2 so that they may be remembered by name during the Prayers of the People.
The end of this season of remembrance is Nov. 11 – Remembrance Day – when we recall those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of peace and justice. We also pray to the Prince of Peace for an end to all conflict between nations and peoples.
All Saints, All Souls and Remembrance Day are important days for remembering the past. But they are not only about memory. This season calls us to be transformed by the ways that others have inhabited the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own lives. It invites us to see how the fruits of the Spirit were shown in others so that they might be manifest in our lives as well. Indeed, the stories of the great saints are of little value if they are simply memorialized in stained-glass windows. They come to life when their lives point us to Jesus.
I recently picked up a wonderful little book called Stick with Love by Bishop Arun Arora. The author reflects on the lives of various “saints” drawn from every corner of the world: India, Nigeria, Eritrea, China, to name but a few. Some of the saints in the book were well known to me, and others I had never heard of. Yet each story, each life, is an expression of a living faith in the God of love. In the foreword, Archbishop Stephen Cottrell writes, “In the daily stories of the saints, we encounter women and men whose lives are resonant with the love of God. Their music is part of our own story and song: with joy and lament they enable us to encounter afresh the surprising, all-surpassing love of God.” I encourage you to order this book for the season of Advent and use its daily reflections to live more deeply into our faith through the example of God’s saints.
For me, it is comforting to be reminded of our deep connection with all the saints and souls who have gone before us. In Christ, we are forever bound to them and they to us. They go on living not only in our memories, but in the nearer presence of God who has welcomed them home. Though gone from our sight and touch, our loved ones and the great saints of the Church are with us so closely in ways we cannot fully comprehend. It is perhaps only in the “thin spaces” of our lives – standing at the edge of the ocean, watching a sunrise across the lake, catching a glimpse of an old photo – that we sense how near they still are.
As we step into this season of remembrance once again this year, I invite you to be inspired by the examples of the great ones who have gone before us, transformed by their unwavering commitment to “stick with love” and comforted that they now dwell in the fullness of God’s presence.