At Epiphany, we talk a lot about being in the habit of going to church. When it comes to worship, some of us have a habit of sitting in the same pew or joining online from our favorite room. Even our liturgy echoes with incandescent habit: we speak and sing and move in unison, to words and music that have been passed down for centuries.
These habits fill us with wonder and awe. We do them Sunday after Sunday.
We have a habit at Epiphany of talking about our reasons for coming to church: reasons like to give thanks to God; to praise God; to learn from Jesus’ teachings how to be more loving to one another and to ourselves; and to show up as a community with and for one another.
It is also our habit, once a year, to celebrate the Feast of All Souls. This is that day. This service has a unique, singular focus: to commemorate those who have departed this life.
When Gabriel Fauré composed the setting of the Requiem Mass that we will hear tonight, his treatment intentionally strayed from the established path of requiems that came before his. Rather than compose a somber nature for the requiem, which was the habit of the day, Fauré focused on hope — the hope of eternal life.
That’s why we come to special services like this. We take moments out of our lives to focus on that hope. We need a special day to focus on the hope. I think Fauré knew what we embrace here at Epiphany – that with death, “life has changed, not ended.” And that “God does not put an end to anything that God loves.”
So, whether we are grieving someone in particular or grieving for the world, we need a special day to focus on that hope. That’s what Fauré does in this requiem. He wanted it to express not the fear of death, but rather the restful nature of it. This was a new way of seeing the requiem. Tonight we hear how his new vision plays out – for example, some movements in Fauré’s music sound like the voices of angels, rapturous, and living “a peaceable vision of paradise.” And other parts are unusually gentle for a requiem mass. So gentle, in fact, that Fauré called his requiem “a lullaby.”
So, we will be soothingly rocked and cradled by this resplendent choir. But as we celebrate the lives of those who died, and as we pray for their pilgrimage of perfect life with God, it’s hard to ignore the very human experience of sorrow. Our sadness is the missing of them. We miss them because we were in the habit of seeing them.
We might still envision the way a loved one walked – languid and loose – or the way their hair fell, or you can smell the perfume that they wore out of habit – maybe it was Chanel no. 5; elegant, a little sharp, but mostly sweet. Sometimes we can still hear that earthy voice whose laughter reverberated like a rumble.
Whether we cared for them physically or from far away, whether they died recently or a long time ago…our grief can undulate through our days in the most unexpected ways, at surprising times. This is where I think we can find comfort: grief is an expression of love.
That’s why we come to services like this! Because we need encouraging, we need reminders of hope, we need reassurance. We take moments out of our lives to focus on these things. We need a special day to focus on the hope. Because in our saddest times, when we are in the midst of grief, it can be hard to remember the hope. That’s why we have each other. People need assurance, just like the words of John and Thessalonians tell us. These unique services, like tonight’s All Faithful Departed, are how we live out what we hear preached and taught every Sunday: to show up as a community, with and for one another, when things are smooth in life and when times are tough. There is love in these pews. Services like this are a chance to express our love.
Our grief, when shared with others in services like tonight, over time, can offer us a new way of seeing. That is why we make a habit of coming to church. To build new ways of seeing. That is the Christian life. We come here to build a new habit …new habits of love:
- That smell of a departed one’s perfume…it used to make you sorrowful, but over time, it becomes your happy comfort.
- You may know someone who has died that did not consider themselves “faithful.” But you are here praying for them. Sometimes you are their connection to God.
We come together because death is not one-sided. When your heart is heavy, community lifts you up. We’re not just in each other’s lives in a general sense. We are in each other’s grief and joy, in each other’s sorrow and hope. We make that a habit because there is love in these pews.
For all those who have departed, maybe we can build a new habit of love – Together, we think of their life after death. Their trials have now ended. We miss them, but they don’t miss us. They have no sorrow. They live on, you know. They are with the God of Love who created them. We will be reunited with them. Our Book of Common Prayer tells us they are welcomed into the glorious company of the saints in the light. And our Prayer Book also tells us, that “even at the grave, we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia.” That is worth celebrating.