Those who have gone before

Hallowe’en marks the start of the Season of Remembrance. The word Hallowe’en is a contraction of ‘the eve of all Hallows’, and All Hallows is the Feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’. This year we are celebrating All Saints Sunday on Hallowe’en, a day when we think particularly of those who even in this life, kindled a light for us in ours. Although it might be more accurate to say that what they actually did was to reflect for us, the light of Christ. 

All Saints Day (November 1st) is followed on November 2nd by All Souls Day, the day that we remember all the ‘souls’ of those that we have known and loved who have gone before us into the light of Heaven. Our celebration of All Saints and All Souls’ stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the ‘Church triumphant’), and the living (the ‘Church militant’).

In Arthur C Clarke’s classic book, “2001: A Space Odyssey” he makes the assertion: “Behind every man now alive stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” Currently there are about 7.7 billion people alive and it is estimated that there have been 117 billion people born since 190,000 BCE, so we are among 7% of the people that have ever lived 14 ghosts each. However Arthur C Clarke was making his statement in 1968 when there were about 3.5 billion people living on earth so that would be one living person for each 29.

It’s therefore right and fitting that we should have a season of the year for remembrance when we recognise the connection between the living and the dead. I always feel that this is a time when perhaps the veil between time and eternity is thinner and get a sense of the greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong and who I feel a connection with every time I come into a church building.

Of course we also remember, on the Sunday closest to 11th November, those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts around the world. In gatherings at war memorials and in church services we unite across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember their service and sacrifice.

It seems appropriate that the Church celebrates these things as the days shorten at the turning of the year . This is of course also the time when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead.

As Christians, we recognise that the greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.


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