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Faithful Departed

by The Rev Beth Knowlton on November 02, 2022

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. —Collect for All Saints' Day

One common strain throughout many religious traditions is the human desire to remember those who have gone before us. Whether we are thinking about the Feast of All Saints, All Faithful Departed, or the Day of the Dead, there seems to be something important about remembering our history in a specifically religious way. That re-membering is an important part of Christian practice, especially in a tradition that is sacramentally centered. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are in a moment of anamnesis. Literally, we undo our tendency to forget as we are rejoined with the whole host of heaven and earth in praise and thanksgiving. 

The Feast of the Faithful Departed, which we remember on November 2, is a feast that specifically reminds us that we may not be able to name many of those witnesses we remember. In an age of increasing celebrity, I think it’s important to be reminded that community is just that, a gathering of many people made one in Jesus Christ. That is our primary and most important relationship to one another. My spiritual director, Fay, often says we are like spokes on a wheel. The closer to being centered on Christ we are, the less distance there is between us. As we perhaps lament our divided culture, filled with larger-than-life personalities, I hope we can remember the wisdom of remembering the faithful departed. We also honor the many faithful saints in our midst who are quietly living and making a difference each and every day. As a leader in this parish with such a rich history, I am very aware of the many faithful witnesses that have created the vibrant community we now participate in. 

Each morning I pass a wall of pictures of the rectors who have served before me. You may have heard me joke that I greet them each morning with a chipper, “hello, boys!” The reality is I appreciate the tangible reminder of those who have served before me. Behind each one of those pictures is a rich cloud of witness who faithfully prayed and pray in this place. No rector can stand without the faithful presence of the community. Some of them we know by name. Others we may have forgotten. But the gift of the communion of saints is that God knows each and every one of us. No names are forgotten in the magnificent tapestry of God’s grace and mercy.

I heard a beautiful story in a sermon at a preaching conference some years ago. The preacher was telling of bidding goodbye to a relative who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He was headed to a family reunion. The man said, “Tell my relatives I may not remember them, but I still love them.” So it is with the faithful departed. And so we love them.

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