And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write this, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Revelation to John 13:14 KJV)
Many may know that one of my very favorite humorists is Jeanne Robertson, a statuesque former Miss North Carolina who has made a vibrant career for herself as humorist and motivational speaker. In recent years she has appeared at both the Bartlett and Germantown performing arts centers, and just last year, I finally had the opportunity to attend one of her appearances at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Memphis.
Jeanne has a brilliant routine called “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store” in which she breaks down how Southerners speak about the deceased. In the South (Deep South, Mid-South, whichever part of the South with which you identify), we never, ever say that someone “died.” We always properly say that so-and-so “passed.” And as accurately pegged by Jeanne, “We then take food.”
At some point in graduate school, my divinity school professors called to my attention that the words “dead” or “died” are not negative. The Holy Bible refers to the “blessed dead” or “beloved dead” or “those who die in the Lord.” The Book of Common Prayer titles our burial office as “The Burial of the Dead,” just as we also find “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage.”
For Christians, death is not the end of the story. We are reminded of this every Sunday as we know that “every Sunday is a Little Easter.” And for this reason, the stigma of “death” and the “dead” is forever taken away, thanks be to God.
Wednesday, November 1, is the Feast of All Saints’ Day, the day when we commemorate all those who have gone before us, those who have helped pave the way and those who set the examples for us. Yea, those who are yet unseen but still live in the full presence of God.
In the Anglican tradition, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints’ also on the Sunday following. Sunday, November 5, we will sing the grand and beloved All Saints’ hymns, and the 2017 parish necrology will be printed in the service leaflet. The individual names will also be read at the Great Thanksgiving in the Eucharist in all three Sunday liturgies.
At the 10:30 service, the Parish Choir will sing the Carl Schalk (b. 1929) anthem, “Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord” (A Motet for All Saints’ Day). I ordered this setting for our choral music library some years ago because I was captivated by the title and its frankness. Schalk’s simplicity of musical line also makes the point in this verbatim setting of Revelation 13:14: Death is simply a transition and not to be feared, knowing that we are in the arms of God.
Yes, we remember our beloved dead and give thanks for their lives and witness. Yes, we are sad when loved ones die, and we miss them. And yes, we have floods of memories of those who have died, some good memories and perhaps some not-so-good ones. However, we can rejoice that the dead fully live in Christ and with Christ. And we know that someday we will follow in their footsteps, for which we may be eternally thankful.