Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… Hebrews 12:1
In the earlier centuries, days will be set aside annually to remember those who were martyred for their faith. These include prominent leaders like Stephen, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp.
As the number of prominent martyrs increased, the days were consolidated into just one: and thus, All Saints Day. Later, All Souls Day was added for the ‘ordinary souls’, like the rest of us.
In our Church Calendar, All Saints Day falls on 1st of Nov (Wed) and All Souls Day on 2nd Nov. Parishes can choose to use the following Sunday to observe All Saints Day, which we do currently. As for the aims of both days, whether saints or just souls, we use this day to remember all who have departed, especially our loved ones.
For most Asians, especially Chinese, we view the dead and after-life negatively or fearfully. I recall as a boy how Qing Ming was observed in my home. A cluster of candles, plunged into the ground will be lit at the roadside at night, alongside plates of food offerings. We were told not to venture outside for on this evening, ghosts will be out and about. The light flickering in the darkness casted some dancing shadows. Peeping through the window, we imagined that we could see some hungry ghosts.
It shouldn't surprise us that Christianity has a far more positive - and brighter - view of the departed. In fact, we find ten thousand reasons to sing and preach about death and the afterlife regularly. When we prepare to receive the communion, we boldly declare that we do so with "angels and archangels, and the company of heaven." In many parts of the world, churches have cemeteries within the compound. In our local Cathedral, the names of the departed are inscribed on the pews, floor and walls. Lest we forget, as we declare in the Apostles Creed, we believe in the Communion of Saints.
So, All Saints Day, like other special feasts in our calendar, is a day set aside to give special focus to one of the many key aspects of our faith. It is day to remind us to remember. We affirm our faith in the gift of eternal life as promised, in Christ. We may visit graves or niches to lay flowers.
The biblical or spiritual values from observing this day are many. Jesus asked his disciples to ‘remember’ him. While this request carries spiritual significance, it also expresses a human dimension. Each of us has a name. We are not an object to be cast off and forgotten. To be remembered is to accord value to personhood and His eternal image in each of us.
We also remind ourselves that we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. We need to avoid the hubris of a "self-achieving solitary self." We were born as a hopeless dependent. If not for our mothers (especially her milk!), ancestors and others around us, we would not have survived, let alone thrive.
We also pause to love. Buried in our self-conscious, is an ache, a longing to be with our loved ones or close friends. On this day, we remind ourselves that in Christ, we will be together again. Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on, we find a new strength and resolve to live the rest of our days well.
I am the sole survivor of the foursome Wong family. I have a tripled reason to observe family rememberance. One day, I too wil be joining the company of heaven. When that happen, I don’t expect you to remember me constantly. But forget me not, especially on this Feast Day.
At least give thanks that I was your pastor for a season.
Photo: The sculptures of Risen Christ with Mary, at the beautiful St Isidor Garden at Jeju.