Friday, November 02, 2007

All the Saints in Heaven

Yesterday was All Saints' Day.

All Saints' always reminds me of a banner that our sending church displayed every year on the Sunday we celebrated that day in the church year. It was a joint effort of a gifted painter and an experienced banner maker, and it depicted Christ on the cross, painted in oil on canvas. Underneath his outspread arms, were painted many faces, half hidden in shadow, that disappeared into the folds of fabric that formed the rest of the unpainted parts of the banner.

Those faces peeking out from beneath Christ's arms and from the folds of fabric represent all those who have gone before us, that "great cloud of witnesses." We join them in the heavenlies during the Eucharistic liturgy when the priest invites, "And now, joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, who forever sing this song" and we sing, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of heaven and earth; Hosanna in the highest."

That moment often reminds me of my friend Beth, who lost her 17-year-old son in a car accident. She told me once that she feels so close to him during those moments in the service. "It's as if the veil between heaven and earth is so thin during the Eucharist."

I often think of those who lived before modern medicine, who experienced death far more often than we do. As painful as it would have been, there was a grace for them in knowing death to be part of life, in expecting it, instead of being so far removed from it as we often are. Heaven would be a much more real place to those who imagined it peopled with relatives and friends, a place of joyful reunion as well as worship. As Beth said to me, "Heaven seems so much nearer to me now that I have someone so close to me there."

And that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Stepping Heavenward by E. Prentiss. In it, the young diarist remarks, "It seems now that I have a child in heaven and am bound to the invisible world by such a tie that I can never again be entirely absorbed by this."

One can even imagine why the practice of praying to saints was so popular in past centuries, with Heaven so real and so close. C.S. Lewis remarked:

There is clearly a theological defense for [devotions to saints]; if you can ask for the prayers for the living, why should you not ask for the prayers for the dead? There is clearly also a great danger... The consoling thing is that while Christendom is divided about the rationality, and even the lawfulness, of praying to the saints, we are all agreed about praying with them. (from Letters to Malcolm)

Praying with them..."joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven"...perhaps even for us moderns and post-moderns, the veil between Heaven and earth is thinner than we imagine.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith... (from Hebrews 12)

1 comment:

Summer in FL said...

Wow Jeanne! What a great post! You have such a way with words!