Sorrow and Hope
by the Reverend Canon Stewart Murray
This article appears in the November issue of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.
November is an interesting month in the Church. We begin with the celebration of the Feast of All Saints and end with the First Sunday in Advent. In between we pray for the faithful departed on All Souls’ Day and rejoice in the hope expressed in the Feast of Christ the King. It is a month of sorrow and of hope, of looking to the past and to the future. In a sense it mirrors our own journey, and each of these occasions in November can speak to us in the midst of our daily lives.
All Saints' Day is when the Church rejoices in the faithful witness of all who have gone before us. It is the time set aside for us to remember the saints of God who, in their generation, embodied the Good News through their daily living and often martyrdom. All Saints is not so much about the big-name Saints, like Peter or Paul, but the countless saints known only to God who touched, and who, by His grace, transformed a corner of this world. I think of the many people who in my life have encouraged, prayed and by example demonstrated what a living faith was all about. Take a moment to give thanks to God for the people who have been instruments of grace in your life, for the saints of God who have strengthened you and been with you. Remember that each of us is called to be such a saint as well.
All Souls’ Day is when we are invited to pray for the departed, to ask God’s grace and mercy on their souls as they await, in God’s nearer presence, the coming of the Kingdom. We pray, in the words of the BCP burial office, “...that the good work which thou didst begin in them may be perfected unto the day of Jesus Christ.” (BCP, p. 600). This day reminds us that all of us will one day be called to die and that our life in Christ will continue to grow and be nourished by prayer, worship and God’s healing grace. As we need the prayers of our sisters and brothers in this life, so we will need their prayers in the life to come. All Souls' Day is a reminder of the importance of praying for one another not only those living but also for those who have died.
The last Sunday in the liturgical year, now called the Reign of Christ but more traditionally the Feast of Christ the King, is a day of celebrating our hope in Christ. We celebrate the fact that despite the struggles and difficulties we live with day to day, we will triumph over all the darkness that clouds our world and our hearts. In the end the victory of the Cross will be fully realized in the world. This hope is expressed in Martin Luther King’s last speech. In the speech he speaks of how God has “..allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.” The promise of the Kingdom will guide us as we live in the midst of the world today. Remembering this promise can help us to not grow weary of working and praying for peace when peace seems so elusive, of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless who seem to never stop coming, of speaking of God’s love and our hope in Him in a world which so often seems to speak only of despair and hatred. With Christ we have a bigger vision of the destiny of humanity and of God’s creation.
The First Sunday of Advent speaks to us of God’s faithfulness; God keeps his promises to His people and is worthy of our trust and worship. He will come and redeem His people and open to all who believe in Him the shuttered gates of heaven. Advent is a much-needed reminder that God is searching for us, is inviting us back into fellowship with Him. We are indeed loved and precious in the eyes of the living God.