As we approach the beginning of November, traditionally the month of remembering, we have already celebrated All Saints and commemorated All Souls, in the Lectionary the first and second of November respectively. These two occasions are very special in our church’s calendar and it is not surprising that they both occur here at St Peter and St Paul on the same day.
All Saints’ Day is the occasion for celebrating, not the well-known saints, most of whom have their special day throughout the church’s year, but the little, lesser known saints. We are all ‘called to be saints,’ but few, if any of us can claim to live saintly lives all the time! We have our moments when we can really feel that we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us, but I think we can all agree that they are few and far between!
But we can all think of people who are a little closer to the ideal than most of us, often quiet, unassuming people, who go about their daily lives without fuss, people we turn to, perhaps, when we have a need for help or for prayer. They are the ones who ‘go the second mile,’ who can always be relied upon, whose outlook on life is God-centred rather than self-centred. Those are the people we remember on All Saints’ Day, as we pray for ‘all the saints who have gone before us and those who are with us now’.
The Commemoration of All Souls is a very special service here in our church. Invariably held in the evening, it is gentle and thoughtful and attracts many who do not normally attend on Sunday, but who come to remember loved ones. At the centre of the service the names of those loved ones are read out, and a votive candle is lit in the memory of each one. It is then carried up to the altar, until that is filled with the flickering flames, and I am reminded of the words engraved in stone at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem:
Unto every person there shall be a name.
And so we move on to November and the solemnity of Remembrance Day when, once again, names are read out during the service at the war memorial, and the traditional words are spoken:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Yes, we will remember – saints and departed souls, members of the armed forces who gave their lives in the two world wars which are now events in the history books – and give thanks for those whom we have known and loved, but see no longer.