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A Meditation on the Feast of All Saints

About the author: Rev. Rebecca L. (Torres) Holland is a visually-impaired, Filipino American Clergy woman serving in the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church. She is the author of The United Methodist Church and Disability and Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse. Her latest book, Hope for the Broken, is coming soon from Touch Point Press. She blogs about faith, books, and disability awareness.

A Meditation on the Feast of All Saints

‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes

— Revelation 7:16-17, NIV

Memento Mori

Years ago, when I attended seminary, I made a friend who was a generation older than me. Although he was raised in the church, he attended seminary later in life. Like many of us, he had tried to run from God’s call

During our very week of seminary, we were told that we would all need to get new Bibles. Our professor particularly recommended the Harper Collins Study Bible because of the quality of the translation used and the copious notes. The professor emphasized the importance of having a translation and not a paraphrase in her class. “You must get a study Bible,” she said, “and, under no circumstances, do I want to see any copies of the King James Version in my class. There have been far better translations of the Bible since then. That version was created before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered! Don’t let me catch you with it.”

My friend complied with the professor’s orders. Like most of us, he purchased a brand-new copy of the Bible which he carried dutifully with him to class each day. When we read or studied in class, he always referred to ur professor’s preferred translation.

However, he also always carried with him his old copy of the King James Version. It was tattered and torn around the edges and the pages were dogeared from much reading. When I saw him thumb through it, I could make out that the margins were crowded with his notes and many passages were underlined. It also looked as if coffee had been spilt on it multiple times.

Finally, I asked him about it. “Why do you carry two Bibles with you every day?” I asked. “Why not just bring the one that we need for class?”

“This Bible is special,” he said to me. “I understand the importance of biblical scholarship, and I respect it, but this Bible is important to me for my own personal devotions. I’ve read from it every day for the past three decades. It has become like an old friend. What’s more, it also helps me remember.”

He turned to the back of the Bible. The last few pages were covered his very neat penmanship. He had written a long list of names and dates.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It is a memorial list,” he said. “When I was young, this list was very short. It is a list of loved ones who have passed away. As the years have passed, and my hair has grown grayer, the list has grown longer and longer. Now, you can see that it takes up several pages.” He gave a sad smile and looked at me. “You can see that I’m almost running out of room. But I remember them, each and every one of them.”

He showed me in the front of the Bible where it was inscribed with his name. It had been a confirmation gift. He had also used the pages to keep track of marriages and baptisms of friend and family members.

“But as you can see,” he said, “the memorial list is much longer.”

At the top of the list, I noticed two words in a foreign language. “What does that say?” I asked. My friend was older than I was, and sometimes it seemed as if he had lived entire lifetimes before meeting me, although now I realize he was barely middle aged.

“It says memento mori. It is a Latin phrase. Loosely translated, it means, Remember death or remember that you are only mortal. Perhaps one day I will attend your funeral or you will preside at mine. Age makes no difference. Tomorrow is promised to none of us and none of us know how much time we have left.”

“That’s dark,” I replied.

“Not really. I think it is comforting. It means that we are finite. That everything in life comes to an end—including pain. The only thing eternal is God, because God is not mortal.”

At the time, I wrote off my friend as an intelligent eccentric. I thought of myself as young and heathy, and the last thing I wanted to do was to contemplate my own mortality.

Then, before the first semester of seminary was over, my grandfather’s health took a turn for the worse.

I rushed home to be with him during the last two weeks of his life. When I returned to seminary, I tucked a prayer card with my grandfather’s picture on it in the back of my Bible, and at the age of twenty-two, I started my own memorial list.

A Tradition from Ancient Rome

At the time, I was unfamiliar with the Latin phrase memento mori, but now I know it is quite well known sentiment that is important to the Western history of thought and dates all the way back to ancient Rome. According tot he Daily Stoic:

After a major military victory, the triumphant military generals were paraded through the streets to the roars of the masses. The ceremonial procession could span the course of a day with the military leader riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. There was not a more coveted honor. The general was idolized, viewed as divine by his troops and the public alike. But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the worshipped general, was a slave. The slave’s sole responsibility for the entirety of the procession was to whisper in the general’s ear continuously, “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!”

“Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember you must die!”

The slave served to remind the victor at the peak of glory, this god-like adoration would soon end, while the truth of his mortality remained.

History of Memento Mori by The Daily Stoic

The Feast of All Saints

Throughout the world, cultures celebrate All Souls Day or the Feast of All Saints in different ways. Even when the Feast of All Saints is divorced from i’s sacred connections and celebrated as only a secular holiday, I believe it remains popular because it serves as a yearly memento mori. It reminds all of us—both old and young—that death is a constant part of life. It helps young children to become accustomed to the idea that death is a part of life’s natural cycle.

However, All Saints is important because of what it reminds us as Christians. On the Feast of All Saints, we take time to honor all of the people who have gone home to be with God. As my personal memorial list grows longer and longer, the Feast of All Saints continues to become more important to me because of the hope it gives. It allows time within the church calendar for all of us to mourn, but it also reminds us of the hope we all have through Jesus Christ. Even when we don’t feel blessed, God’s Holy Word offer us comfort that we are indeed blessed because we are loved by God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…

Blessed are the meek …

Blessed are the peacemakers…

5Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

–Matthew 5:4-12, Revised Common Lectionary

Remember: HE LIVES!

The ancient Roman philosophers remind us, “Memento Mori.”

But into the darkness of the ancient world, there shone a light. A star over the city of Bethlehem, where a newborn king laid in a manger – both wholly human and wholly divine

During times of loss, we might not feel blessed. Who feels blessed when they are mourning?

But that baby grew up to conquer death. He treaded the serpent’s head underneath his heel. He left the tomb empty. He conquered death so that we can have eternal life.

Everyone in the world will experience death—

And EVERYONE has the choice to experience immortal life as well

We all have the choice to reunite with our loved ones in heaven, and we all eagerly await the coming of a new creation, when there will be no more death, no more pain, and no more fear. When Jesus comes again (which may be sooner than any of us think or realize) he will make all things new. He will remake ALL of creation and there will be no more death at all. The world will be turned upside down.

Every valley will be lifted up

The uneven ground will become smooth,

Every mountain will be made low

the rugged places will become a plane,

… and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!  (Isa 40:3-5)

Isaiah 40:3-5

 This All Saints, as the pandemic continues to steal countless lives from us and we all experience never before imagined fear and anxiety, let us remember that all things comes to an end. Let us take comfort in the fact that Only God is eternal. A time will come when every tear will be wiped away and the beautiful image John saw on the island of Patmos will become reality.

Until then, Memento Mori—

And rejoice that HE LIVES.

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