Our church year set this time aside to honour those who have gone before us — All Hallows Eve on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day (the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed) on November 2 — the Allhallowtide Triduum – when we remember the saints, martyrs and the baptized who have died.
I have always found great comfort in the words of the BCP’s great thanksgiving — “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of Heaven…” When I heard those words, I would see in my mind’s eye vast galleries of souls joining in; not only with our service, but with all those going on around the world. Although I was standing in my place in my church, I had the sense of being a part of an entire community since the time of Christ.
Now that I am a widow and I don’t hear those specific words anymore, I have to think a bit harder to be aware of that heavenly company and think of my sweetheart as one of its newer members.
I never thought of myself as a member of the Church Militant, as a warrior for Christ here in this fleshly existence. I think that spiritual warfare isn’t necessarily an out and out struggle with evil. Sometimes it is a matter of being “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you, to give an account for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV). Maybe we just lead a spirit-filled life as much as is possible in this fallen world and let the Holy Spirit work in others who come into contact with us.
This is what I mean — some years ago, I was chatting with a fellow parishioner, I’ll call “Alice.” Alice was a gentle soul who always had a smile. She was the sort of person who was very approachable and open to conversation. Alice had worked for many years at the same store. One day, she told me, a regular customer said to her, “How is it that you are always so pleasant and calm? You just shine. I would like to be like that.”
Alice replied that she is a Christian and a regular churchgoer who tries to live life as best she can. To me, that story was a revelation, a relief really. Phew! I don’t have to battle demons and rid the world of evil, not even in my little portion of it. My job is to be open to the Spirit, live in a way that honours God and does as little harm to my fellow humans as I possibly can.
I say “as little harm” because, regardless of my intentions, others will receive my words and actions according to their own filters and life experience, and sometimes those two things don’t match. That is beyond my control, but I do hope that we will be in alignment, and if not, that we can sort things out together.
If I have any words of comfort to share with those who are sad, alone, struggling with life’s temptations, or simply trying to find their way, I offer this — none of us are alone. We all get inner promptings. Sometimes they are loud messages that we just cannot ignore, and sometimes we have to learn to listen to that “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13, KJV). We have the Holy Spirit in our heart and all the company of heaven on our side.