Observing The Festival of All Saints

In the early days of the C-19 pandemic there was the refrain ‘that we were all in the same boat’ as we faced the unknown in terms of transmission, infections, lockdowns, and major changes in society and relationships and the saddest statistic was the ‘excess deaths’. I took exception to the ‘same boat’ analogy because it was patently untrue – and wrote about it here – describing us in the pandemic as ‘being in the same storm but vastly different boats’. This all came back to me as I heard a podcast about graves and memorial benches (BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed) and I hadn’t really considered that though we all die – and there is an ‘equality’ in death – whether and how we are memorialised is vastly different. There was quite a discussion on the graves of the Victorian times with their funeral finery, statues, mausoleums and then the later development and growth of cemeteries outside of church grounds. I hadn’t considered at all that the memorial benches I’ve walked past – and I often do read the plagues – are seen as a secular memorialising of the deceased separate from the place of their remains. Very early in my time in Suffolk I stopped at a single car accident into a tree on a back road and offered to help but the young driver died – and I still drive past a home made tended memorial at the tree – as she lived very close to the site of the accident and thus she is still remembered locally.

We all want to be remembered – by someone. And yet the weight of human history and the different funeral practices around the world and even the challenge of space suggests that ‘life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and fret his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more’ (Macbeth V,5). Human beings fear meaningless and that this life is a ‘tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (Macbeth V,5) and so we search for meaning in the things of this world – power, possessions, privilege – and want to testify to them by how we are memorialised in death. But if that is all life is with the vagaries of memory and quickly fading family trees then living really is a flip of the coin, random, and an arbitrary survival of the fittest for the longest.

By all means let us remember our loved ones who have died, dispose of their mortal remains properly and with dignity which will inevitably reflect the inequalities of this world but for Christians, let us also remember – and hold onto – another tale told by idiots according to this world of a man who died on a cross but who also defeated death’s hold and rose to a new life that is now free from death’s power. And Jesus freely gives his life for ours in Baptism when we become ‘new creations in Christ’ and so those ‘in Christ’ even though they die yet shall they live (John 11:25,26). 

However and wherever our mortal remains exist in this world, the grave is not the end of our story. Of course we grieve when we are in the presence of death but for those in Christ we don’t grieve as the world does because we have hope. We will live a resurrected life in a resurrected body and there is no power, possessions, privilege to grab because we will experience what we now believe – that with Jesus, we have life in all its fulness.