My uncle Angelo died a year ago on the Feast of All Saints. He was a young 70, and even though he had some health issues and accidents over the years, it was still very unexpected. He lived life to the fullest. In fact, just days prior to his death, he was out riding razor scooters with his grandchildren! Further, he died doing the very thing he loved most: wood working, building cabinets.
While I am a clergy person, I am the only Episcopalian among our very large Italian family. And so, I was a little surprised when I was asked to officiate Uncle Angelo’s burial. This was a huge privilege and a great honor. During our preparations for the funeral, I learned details about my uncle’s life that I had never been privy to.
At some point during the preparations, I was handed his study Bible. It was awe-inspiring. Angelo had used the same Bible for Bible study for years, decades even. Every page was marked up with highlights, underlining, notes, scriptural cross-references, and more. It was cool to see Greek transliterations with notes about other possible translations. This simple, down-to-earth carpenter, who loved Gamecock football, had devoted himself to a deep engagement with scripture.
I was reminded that saints come in all forms, from every walk of life, even from among our very own families and friends. That’s part of what All Souls’ Day is about, I think.
The observance of All Souls was abolished during the Reformation, but it experienced a resurgence in the Anglican tradition as an optional observance. In some ways, All Souls (also known as the Feast of the Faithful Departed), is an extension of All Saints, calling forth remembrance of the broader cloud of witnesses. While the word saints refers to the whole of the Christian community in the New Testament scriptures, tradition has come to primarily apply the word saint to persons of heroic sanctity. I am reminded of the Proper Preface for a Saint (The Book of Common Prayer, page 380), which prays:
For the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all your saints, who have been the chosen vessels of your grace, and the lights of the world in their generations.
I often use this preface when celebrating the Eucharist for a particular saint’s feast day; however, my uncle’s Bible reminds me that it also speaks to the broader community of saints. It speaks to a broader witness of the Good News of God in Christ among the people in our lives, the ordinary saints we find among our family, friends, neighbors, and in our communities.
This is the reminder offered to us by the observance of All Souls. On the Feast of All Souls, we are invited to remember all the faithful departed, all who we love and miss and remember. Yes, tell the stories of fun and important memories like vacations, favorite traditions, and those funny habits and sayings someone was known for. But don’t stop there. Also tell the stories of how our loved ones, our friends and family members, were vessels of grace and lights of the world. Tell the stories of graces and challenges, how they strived to live faithfully, how their lives declared the grace of God.
Who are the beloved saints among your family or community?
What are the stories of their faithful living?
How did they declare the grace of God in their lives?
What were their habits of Christian living and service?
How were they a light of God’s grace to us?