Harrowing Of Hell
November 4, 2012

All Saints’ Day Evensong 2012

Preacher: The Reverend Kate Wesch

Isaiah 25:6-9, John 11:32-44

In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The days falling between October 30 and November 2, encompassing Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, have been set aside as sacred in the thoughts of my heart for many years now.  “The ancient Celts, who celebrated the major festival of Samhain around November 1, believed that the veil between worlds became especially permeable at this time.”  As author Jan Richardson writes, “In something of that spirit, I find that these days offer an invitation to ponder the past. Not with a desire to return to it, or to second-guess it, but with a mindfulness of what has gone before, and perhaps to have a brief visit from the ghosts of What Might Have Been.

It’s this kind of impulse that gave rise to the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

Recognizing the ancient habit of looking to the past at this time of year, the church created new ways to remember the dead with practices in which we can still hear the echoes of the ancient celebrations. Each culture that observes these feast days continues to add their own layers of meaning and mystery, as with the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations that originated in Mexico (and which, of course, rest on pre-Christian festivities).”

At Epiphany, we mark this time with an Altar of Remembrance.  Beginning on All Souls’ Day, November 2, a small altar was set-aside in the Chapel filled with pictures and a book with names to remember and honor family members and friends who have died.  It will remain up through the month of November and pictures and names may be added at any time.  This is an especially good time to come to the Chapel for quiet reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Eight years ago, on October 30, I lost a very dear friend quite suddenly.  I learned of his death on Halloween and gathered with community to remember his life in worship on November 1, All Saints’ Day.  Each successive year, these days were inextricably linked to that time of mourning.  The feast of All Saints’ Day marked another year since his passing and an annual opportunity for remembrance.

Then, just a few years ago, Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was shot and killed less than two miles from here while on patrol Halloween night with officer-in-training, Britt Sweeney.  Tim’s brother and sister are good friends of mine, and each year, we commemorate him as a community of friends.  For all of us, these few days are a trip through history as we remember those who have died and try to honor them with our prayers, in our memories, and in our hearts.

In a God-filled twist of fate, my daughter, Avery, was born two years ago on October 30, bringing things full circle.  Ever since then, instead of mourning Michael’s loss on that date, I get to celebrate and focus on this new soul with joyous celebration.  As God intended, I now reserve a more somber reflection for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day when we mark with prayers and song, the passing of so many before us.

Our gospel reading for tonight tells the story of another significant loss.  Lazarus’ death is crushing for not only his family, his sisters Mary and Martha, but also tremendously so for his dear friend Jesus.  In fact, when Jesus learns of his death, he does something that he does in no other place in scripture, “Jesus weeps.”

Jesus weeps for the loss of his friend.  He weeps for the pain he sees in his sisters, Mary and Martha.  He weeps as he faces the knowledge that his time too will come to pass.  Death reminds us of our own mortality.  But, as Christians, death no longer applies because we are eternal.  Our souls are eternal just as God is eternal and we will live forever in God’s presence.

Evident in Jesus’ tears is the duality of the situation.  On one level, Jesus is human just like us, crying over the loss of a dear friend.  But, in between the lines, we know Jesus is divine and he is our Savior.  As Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, it means he must enter it.  Jesus knows this and we know it.  While it is Easter for Lazarus, it is Good Friday for Jesus.  Jesus’ death takes away death forever more.

As death has no more dominion over us, we are eternally one with God and with all God’s saints in heaven and on earth.  The collect sung so beautifully a few moments ago acknowledges our ongoing relationships with the dead and prays, “Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy.”

Even when our loved ones are gone, even when we ourselves are gone, we live on eternally in God’s kingdom where death holds no power over us.