Today is All Souls Day, or, in Episcopal Church longest-holy-day-name-ever, the Commemoration of the All Faithful Departed. I stick with All Souls Day. We think it developed in the British Isles, probably as a day that remembered those who had died. I suspect in the pre-internet days, there were often people who went to sea or walked to Scotland or went to gather firewood and were simply never heard from again. So maybe having a day that was a big funeral service served a purpose. And people who had buried loved ones remembered the grief, felt the sadness, and appreciated a liturgy that held their grief and sadness in prayer. Sometime in the 9th century or so, one of the Popes thought a day that remembered the dead would be a good idea, given that grief stays with us. Sadly, some higher-ups in the Church used it as a money-making opportunity.
"Hey, your husband died. Want to make sure he's in heaven? Pay me and I'll say a mass," said priests, bishops, and cardinals in pre-Reformation greed is good parts of the church.
Then Luther and a few others suggested that perhaps humans didn't really have any business charging entrance fees into heaven, so All Souls Day fell in with the unpopular crowd for a few decades. Or centuries. Anglicans, being Anglicans, never really dismissed the whole day, and did see the value in praying for those who have died. So it's still on our calendar. We added 598 words to the name of the day, but it is what it is: a day we remember those who have died, those we still miss. So we pray. We have beautiful music and candles and maybe an Altar of the Dead. We bring our hearts, still missing those we love, and pray together.
Not praying them into heaven or whatever odd theology we humans come up with about heaven and how and when people are granted admission, but praying because we remember them, we miss them, and our love for them doesn't go away. In the phrase of a lovely prayer, remembering those we love but see no longer. We pray because, as Christians, we know that death is not an end, but a change.
A good change, but a change that still brings sadness and tears. Grief, as I've written before, is the price we pay for love. If we love someone, we will grieve when they die. That's the holy economy of love.
And if they've been gone a week or a month or a year or a decade, we still miss them.
I still miss my grandmothers. I missed my Grandmother Brock a few weeks ago when I saw the rocks in which my several-times-over great grandfather carved hunting signals. She loved genealogy. She would have appreciated the deep carvings in a rock in Kentucky from our family that her granddaughter touched. I miss my Grandmother Williams whenever I grease the muffin pans to make cornbread. It will never taste as good as it did when we gathered around her table for family meals.
I miss the many parishioners I've buried. I miss their smiles, the way they pressed the altar linens, and the way they received communion on Sundays. I miss my friends who have died, knowing I can call them or text them with some absurd event. I miss them
And I am very thankful for a day set aside by the Church where we gather, to remember that life for those we miss has changed, but not ended.
And where we can still miss them.