This turning of October to November has always seemed to me a pre-Advent season. Something is afoot in the universe. On Halloween we acknowledge the thin veil between reality and fantasy. We mock the power of fear by hyping it up artificially. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. It’s a Carnevale before the late autumn of the northern hemisphere sets in. If October’s colors are yellow, red, and orange – what are the colors of November?
In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a character writes “…visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said ‘Life goes on.’ What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There’s no end to that.”
So on All Saints Day, we acknowledge the forever-ness of death by loving through the veil that separates this world from the other. There have been All Saints Days during which I have had profound corporate worship experiences. One was a retreat in New England. The worship space was high on a hill, with a picture window revealing a view of farmhouse, to meadow, to river. We were allowed lots of silence, space to pray and contemplate those who have gone before.
During the Eucharist, we sang the Taizé chant “Jesus, Remember Me” acapella – harmonies rising up organically. We were encouraged to change the words as we wished: Jesus, remember him; Jesus, remember her; Jesus, remember us. At times voices joined together singing the same words, at times the phrases were different. It was a representation of a cloud of witnesses in song. The Anglican equivalent of praying in tongues.
But in the area in which I live now, All Saints Day is simply an excuse for the choirmaster to put on a show. My In Box must have half a dozen notices from the local churches announcing their afternoon requiem concerts. Duruflé (two churches) Fauré, Mozart (three churches). All with precious and precise written bits describing why a particular composer’s work was chosen this year, the history of the piece, how the organ would be and should be used. There is the promise of reading a parish necrology, but it’s more of an after thought.
I have some dreams about how our worship could be, a place where prayerful Christians, activist Christians, conservative Christians, formation-oriented Christians, all have real reasons to be together on a Sunday morning, nourished to live a life where everything we do is infused with the reality of the spiritual, the holy, of God.
If I want to go to a concert, I’ll go to a concert. Why would I want to hear a third–rate version of any piece – its compositional greatness notwithstanding – when I can go to a concert hall and hear a bang-up version of Britten’s War Requiem, or John Adams On the Transmigration of Souls? And even if those performances are sub-par, at least they are being done by music organizations where the mission is to perform pieces.
How about making All Saints Day important to everyone in the parish, and not just show off time for the choir? (Not to mention saving the extra money paid for soloists and instrumentalists.) Make candles, write a litany, have a feast in honor of those in the parish who have died, explore Celtic or Mexican worship, incorporate music from New Orleans, set up community dialog about death with other churches, mosques, temples, and take a moment to invite some Wiccans to the discussion if only to understand the Christian understanding in comparison.
The Episcopal Church is so proud of its bent towards liturgy. Yet it seems as if plugging in the collects of the day at the 10 o’clock and asking everyone to come back at 5 for the de rigueur requiem is the best we can do.
Is there anyone out there who can give me reason to keep hoping? What did your parish do for All Saints Day?
Even wizards rely on a cloud of witnesses….