Rooms in my Father’s House
Sunday of All Faithful Departed
Most Christians who have departed from this life were neither martyrs nor confessors. They were not particularly distinguished by their death or by their way of life. They were straightforward, ordinary people who nevertheless made a great impact on those around them. Who when they left us, were greatly missed. Are greatly missed. They are our saints. There is great sadness in this Sunday’s service as we remember our faithful departed, but it is not a sadness of those who have no hope – it is filled with faith in a blessed resurrection and the eternal joy that awaits us all. Jesus presents himself to us as the Good Shepherd who does not want to lose even one of His sheep – He wants to lead them all to salvation. Rather than an end, death is, for the Christian, a door opening into eternity, a door that admits a soul into eternal life. Jesus promised us that, – “In my Father’s house there are many rooms – I go to prepare a place for you.”
It is our responsibility to remember the faithful departed, the numerous ordinary people through the centuries who have lived and died trusting in God, faced life’s ups and downs with the same faith as the named saints but without the wider recognition. Each of us has names and faces in our memory, our own faithful departed for whose influence on our lives we thank God. Our presence here is testimony to their influence on us for good. This day also confronts us with our mortality, the fact that each one of us will one day die. Death brings separation and thus sadness, and for some people here the memories are still raw and sharp with grief and tears, for others there is a long sadness, which never quite goes but which time has softened and God’s grace has tempered with thanksgiving for all the good memories.
It is our birthright as Christians based on our trust in Jesus Christ who promised, ‘Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.’ The monks on the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos) constantly remind us daily that we are going to die which is wise advice because it keeps us living realistically, trusting in Jesus Christ who has conquered death. God raised him from the dead giving us cause for hope since Jesus also said, ‘This is the will of the Father that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day.’
This day makes us mindful not only of the death of our dear ones but also of our own death. The saints experienced it, the disciples experienced it, and Jesus Himself willed to undergo it. But at times like this the Church is there to encourage us and to remind us that while the life of the body may die, the life of the spirit and the good works accomplished during life remain. These good works accompany the soul in its journey from this life, and they are precious in the eyes of the Lord. These good works are what bind us to our lost loved ones still today. Stopping to consider it in this place, at this time, we might realize just how much of the lives of our departed loved ones have stayed with us even though they have physically gone: their influence, their warmth, their characteristics which we see in other family members and friends. The way we live now, which is still influenced by the way they encouraged us to live.
We must remember, though, that the saints were not perfect. That is something, which our modern-day secular Halloween reminds us of: all of us have a darker side. The church at its best also recognizes this. We must not forget that even the greatest saints were also sinners. And that adds another side to our commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed. When we ask God to take care of these precious souls we might need to ask God to bring healing to any hurts which still exist between us and them; to any regrets we may have about things unsaid or undone between us and those who have gone before us.
In remembering our departed, we reflect upon their need for divine mercy and forgiveness and upon the hope of not being abandoned by God at death but rather asking that divine peace may be given to all departed souls. The sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ is powerfully represented in and through our liturgy and this brings home to us the dramatic power of death and of its transcendence, day after day, generation after generation. We are further reminded of the fact that although death parts us from those we love, we are still one. We are comforted by the powerful words of Christ: ‘This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’
And in that sure and confident hope, we are invited to participate in the Holy Eucharist, a foretaste and anticipation that one day when the Lord will gather into his kingdom all who share the His Body and Blood, in the company of all the saints, all the faithful departed, may praise and glorify God for ever through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen