the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 30 Canon Jim Irvine
...celebrations of the past became transformed with hope and celebration.

Who in the multitude of thy Saints hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses, that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and together with them may receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.

The Proper Preface for All Saints’ Day, Book of Common Prayer p. 81


Pumpkins gathered and preliminary designs sketched in preparation for carving, attics and trunks are less visited than the costume cues of the local Wal-Mart and Zellers. Youngsters become excited with the prospect of candy indulgence by week’s end. There will be classroom parties at school or possibly an area gathering hosted by a social club. But the excitement is eclipsed this year by the calendar and all else seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Another opportunity for teaching is lost.

This year All Saints’ Day falls on a Monday. A week from tomorrow.

And that places the Eve of All Saints’, or All Hallows’ Eve next Sunday. We know it better as Halloween.

Death has had a fascination that has intrigued every generation. The mystery surrounding the silence of death has attracted believer and unbeliever alike from before Jesus’ death and resurrection, and ever since. The early followers of Jesus died in witness of his death and Easter discovery. The community sharing their conviction recognized their faith and honoured them. Long before the community gathered to commemorate Jesus’ birth, they came together to honour the witnesses that surrounded them through accumulating generations.

As Jesus transformed the silence of death by the empty tomb of Easter and his Easter revelation of God’s glory, so early generations transformed a universal fascination by death into a conscious awareness of fellowship in Christ. No longer did death have the sting of confusion, unknowing and fear. Death had been swallowed up in victory!

The celebrations of the past became transformed with hope and celebration.

We seem to have lost that.

Our age is sufficiently self-centered that we minimize the communion we enjoy. We have forgotten that the nature of the communion is reflected in the character of Jesus. We limit the capacity for inclusion and have whittled the fellowship to a meagre expression of suspicion. And what we choose most quickly to recognize is the evil in this world over the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, that compass us about! A present evil threatens more than the witness of faith in countless generations encourages!

We reduce communion to the present, and with most confidence, limited to ourselves. Failing to believe what the scripture declare, and the church proclaims in the Communion of Saints, we believe faith begins with us.

Our unknowing, our fear, our arrogance imposes on youngsters a dreaded evil and allows excitement and anticipation, once characteristic of a resurrection community, to be sullied by evil.

Forgetting transformation, we forget the witnesses. And then, fearfully, discover our fellowship confined behind locked doors once again.

In a faithful response to the transforming power of the Resurrected Christ, we press on. We continue to run the race. We continue to run, encouraged by those who surround us. We continue towards a costume piece that dispels fear: the crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999