The Solemnity of All Souls at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
November 2, 2002
Daniel 12:1-3 + Romans 6:3-9 + John 6:37-40
Roman Catholics often visit a church to be alone with God, and in a Protestant church they have a feeling of emptiness. I often look into open churches, and I do not remember a time I have ever seen anyone praying alone in a Protestant Church. It may be a coincidence of my timing; but I am not mistaken about my feelings. There is no sacrament reserved there, and that does affect my feelings about the space. This is not the experience of Byzantine Christians. When they enter a church they do not proceed to their private prayers at a central altar or tabernacle without first going round to visit the icons. They kiss them and light candles before them. They salute them and join in communion with them. The walls of their churches are covered with images of patriarch and prophets, preachers and teachers. They rub shoulders with local saints and national martyrs. Their family histories are filled with songs and hymns and legends to tell again and again in every generation, for in telling them, they recall the acts and blessings of God.
That is what we do here on this Feast of All Souls. Devotion to the saints and to the dead are really the same thing; the sense of unity with a common past that is so strong in the worship of the East. Those we remember today do not cease to exist because we cannot see them or know their presence through our senses. They live as always, but without this frame of flesh and blood with which they approached and held correspondence with us. The life they have now is present, not future, past, nor distant. It is not above the sky, it is not beyond the grave, it is now and here; the Kingdom of God among us.
John Henry Newman in a sermon left behind these thoughts to make sense of this day. “We are looking here for the coming of the day of God, when all this outward world, fair though it be, shall perish; when the heavens shall be burnt, and the earth melt away. We can bear the loss, for we know it will be but the removing of a veil. We know that to remove the world that is seen will be the manifestation of the world that is not seen. We know that what we see is like a screen that hides from us God and Christ, and the angels and the saints.”
We sit today in their presence. They surround us and bear us up as they always have and always will. We share with them a common beginning in mind and in the heart of God; and we shall share with them a common eternity in the arms of that God who calls us all his own.