All Souls

All Souls Day is a rehearsal for my own funeral.

I realised this a few years ago when someone commented that the All Souls Requiem at St Mary’s seemed to be a particularly important time of the year and was appealing to more people than it used to. When I sat and thought about it, I realised that what I was doing each year in preparing for it was preparing for my own funeral and that at some level, part of what gives me life and energy at St Mary’s is building a community that would know exactly what to do if I dropped down dead.

Some people might think that rather morbid but it isn’t. I don’t think that much about death. Keeping All Souls is actually a way of helping ourselves let the dead be dead without fixating constantly about them. After last night’s Requiem for All Souls it simply felt to me that all was as it should be. Those whom we care for had been commended to God’s love, we had prayed alongside one another in our remembering and we had done so in the most beautiful way we could do.

There are many things about All Souls which touch me. One is the use of the Eucharistic prayer for Easter. That’s what we do whenever there’s a funeral that is a Eucharist too. When someone dies there’s a snatch of Easter Day about the proceedings. In the first light of Easter, glory broke from the tomb, after all.

Last night’s requiem was sublime. The simple tunes of Rutter’s Requiem taking us on a pastoral journey. We saw that death is real. We saw that grief is raw. And we knew that God is love. The music was incredible – the choir literally singing to raise the dead.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

The double Feast of All Saints and All Souls is one that always takes my mind abroad too. I was in Sweden for it one year, the year before I was ordained. My memory is of people going to the graveyards and lighting candles on the graves. A little of the first snow of winter had fallen and there was mist swirling around the graveyard trees as people wandered the quiet pathways thinking about those who had died.

I remember someone telling me that they always lit candles for their parents and then crossed the graveyard to light another one on the grave of Dag Hammarskjöld РAll Saints and All Souls always mingle.

And then three years ago I was in America at this time of year.

It seems to me that Hallowe’en has suffered rather at lot in its return trip back across the Atlantic to these shores. It seems now to be an excuse for very poor fancy dress bought from cheap outfitters by people who want to get drunk looking like a pirate or Wonderwoman.

Rather more interesting in the US these days is the set of traditions that the Latino people bring to this time of year. Some of the solemnity that northern Europeans cultivate when thinking about the dead is challenged by those who want to celebrate their dead with an enormous party.

This is what this time of year looks like in one of the churches that I visited during my sabbatical – All Saints’ Church in Chicago – a place which knows how to party.

All Saints Chicago

In the midst of life we are in death.

And vice versa.

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