Thursday, November 02, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 4 - All Souls Day

Reflection on Isaiah 25:6-9

The Scripture reading we just heard is one of the options for the Old Testament lesson for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day, which we remember today. This passage heralds an announcement of salvation using strong eschatological language – language referring to the end of the world or the ultimate destiny of humankind. According to Isaiah, this image of salvation has two components. The first is a feast, a ritual meal of unimaginable plenty, on Mt. Zion., set out for all people. The second is an end to suffering, an end to death that casts its pall over all people, over all nations. In so doing, God will “wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of [God’s] people [God] will take away from all the earth.” One thing is abundantly clear from this passage – salvation and the banquet symbolizing that salvation are made available to all. It is our deepest hope as we face death, be it the death of a loved one, or as we face the specter of our own mortality. Either way, this passage expresses “the deepest human hopes for an end to mourning, to death itself, and to all grief” (Tucker, 217). This passage promises an end to death not just for an elect few, but for all God’s children.

In his commentary on this passage, Gene Tucker ponders “How are we to understand the promise that the Lord ‘will swallow up death forever’? Is it to be taken literally or metaphorically? Certainly the language is metaphorical, but the prophecy looks to a time when death will be no more” (Tucker, 217). As we read this passage, we tend to focus on the theme of the end of death. But more importantly, this passage emphasizes the promises of an end to mourning. The emphasis is on the effect that death causes for those who alive – on the survivors who mourn their personal losses, the loss of their loved ones. This says something about our God, and about what God deems important. The “prophetic voice declares that life, not death, is what God endorses” (Tucker, 217).

So, if, as Tucker posits, God endorses life and not death, then why do we do it? Why do we have the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Why do we remember those who are dead, and in so doing run the risk of dredging up feelings of mourning and grief? After all, if Isaiah is correct, and if our understanding of life after death is correct, those who die are assured of salvation – and not only salvation, but a fantastic feast commemorating the event – an endless feast beyond our wildest imaginations. If Isaiah is correct, and if Tucker’s assessment of this passage is correct, then, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is not so much about the departed as about the living. I would have to agree. At least for me, remembering those who have gone before is an occasion that can be filled with joy for the reasons Isaiah implies – death is not an end of life, but the beginning of new life, of everlasting life. Now, of course I miss my friends and family who have died. But in remembering them on All Souls Day, or any other day for that matter, I chose not to dwell on the fact that they are no longer physically present, but rather I think about how they are still present in my life. I know that my loved ones who have died have somehow touched my life and given me a part of themselves. They have helped to form the person who I am through their love, their influence, their example of what it means to live a faithful life. Without them, I would not be the man I am today.

The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a celebration of life. While we cannot help but feel some pain at the loss of loved ones, let us remember that God endorses life and not death. Let us remember those who have gone before not with grief, but with gratitude. Let us remember the joyous lives that these saints have lived. Let us remember that those who have gone before continue to live, not only in the Kingdom of Heaven, but also in our own lives – in our hearts, in our memories, and in our very beings.


Tucker, Gene M. “The Book of Isaiah 1-39: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. VI of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

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