Dead or alive?
"... rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind." Proverbs 8.31
Today is All Saints Day, when churches rejoice in those who have died in faith and are now in heaven awaiting the final resurrection when Jesus returns in glory, bringing heaven to earth to establish the New Creation. Some assert that this marks the ultimate Christian festival because it celebrates the completion of Jesus' mission: to redeem the world and unite all believers in his body which is the church.
In some traditions believers are encouraged to pray through the saints. Bishop/ Professor Tom Wright challenged this practice by asking: Why hang about in the waiting room with attendants, when you have direct access to the throne room and the King? A former fellow Royal Navy chaplain countered with another question; Why not call on the favour of friends in high places? And then there is the dilemma over what we mean by "saints"? In the strictest and most inclusive sense, "saints" are all those whose lives have been rendered holy through faith in Jesus.
Tomorrow is the Feast of All Souls, when Catholics and Anglicans pray for those whom they believe are languishing in purgatory, waiting for admission to heaven. In Latin American countries the Day of the Dead is marked by processions of revellers in macabre costumes, reminiscent of Halloween in the West, which harks back to the belief that, on the eve of All Saints, evil spirits were released. In some communities people dressed up either as saints or demons and enacted battles around bonfires while, in pre-Christian Celtic culture, the date was associated with the end of Harvest and the beginning of winter and called Samhain, which is still the Gaelic name for November.
The 17th century French Catholic reformer, Jean-Jacques Olier offers the following checklist, against which to measure our own progress in sanctification (reprinted in Jim Houston's 'Letters of Faith'):
Do we constantly thank God for all his benefits?
Do we ask him to keep us thankful?
Do we do all things in love?
Do we avoid all longings which are not of God?
Do we avoid correction, subtly restricting our desire for God?
Do we avoid rebuking ourselves by concentrating on the faults of others?
Are we jealous of others when they are praised?
Do we overlook the imperfections of friends to recognise our own?
Can we accept being overlooked in order to live a "hidden" life in Christ?
Do we fester with resentment when others ignore God?