Leaves turn color. Yellow, red, orange, brown. Dry, they fly and fall from the sky. Carpeting the ground, like parchment, they crackle under foot. You can hear them. You can smell them – the mustiness of the earth.
Hist whist little goblin. Hist whist little ghostling.
It is that time of year again. As night falls, the veil between the worlds is torn. Spirits freely move between heaven and earth, between this world and the next. Lanterns are lit and treats set out to guide home the wayward souls. On this, All Hallows’ Eve – the day we call Halloween.
All Hallows’ Eve, even more than All Saints Day was a high holy day at my house. It was just about the only holiday, as a clergy person, that I did not have to work. My children, specifically my son Zach, each year would transform our front porch into a haunted space — with paint and props, cob webs and pumpkin slime, fake blood and plastic body parts.
One year the porch became Dr. Frankenstein’s workshop. Another year (my favorite), the porch became Hotel 666, where you checked in but could never check out!
Trick-or-Treaters flocked to our front door with their paper sacks and plastic pumpkins. And we always gave out the good stuff; not Dumdums lollipops. Yuck, no! But chocolate. Especially chocolate!
All Hallows’ Eve. Ah, Holy Day.
And then, the next day, and the one after that, were also holy. All Saints Day, November 1st. All Souls Day, November 2nd. Growing up Catholic, holy souls enveloped my childhood. Christened for Saint Joan, I was doubly sainted once confirmed. For my “confirmation name” I chose Veronica — for her four melodious syllables.
And on All Souls Day, after church, my family would visit Cedar Hill Cemetery, a holy place, planted with Peacocks over many generations.
While my siblings and I played among the headstones, my mom clipped the grass and left flowers at our grandparents’ graves. Afterward we would race down the hill to the pond and toss breadcrumbs to the ducks.
And before we got back into the car, we’d say a little prayer for all of those who had gone before. All those saints and souls, both great and small. For all these holy persons, in whom heaven and earth got all tangled up.
We were, after all, standing in a cemetery. One must die to reach the other side.
The day we die is also the day we rise. And if a saint, it is our saint’s day, too.
In the margins of my Book of Common Prayer, in pencil, are the scribbled names of many souls whom I have laid to rest these past 25 years.
And as for me I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my waking, he will raise me up, and in my body, I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.
And the One whose name is above every name, counts us among the guests of heaven.
Most of us are saintly in a lowercase “s” kind of way. But this Sunday, November 3rd, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, saints with a capital “S.”
So, how do we earn one of those? Who gets to wear an official halo and how?
Well, in the Roman Catholic scheme of things, to be canonized, not only do you have to be a pillar of virtue in life — you also have to be a miracle worker in death.
Happily in the Episcopal Church, it’s different. Modeled on the United States Congress, we have both a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies, who gather every three years at Convention. The Standing Liturgical Commission (Episcopalians love committees!) nominate candidates for their resemblance to Christ. Then the members of both houses vote. Yes, vote! If elected, the new saint gets a date on the liturgical calendar. A lesser feast, so to speak.
And really good news, saints don’t have to be saints all of the time. Every saint is also a sinner. So, some Anglican saints might surprise you. There are the usual suspects, of course: the Mary’s, the martyrs, the apostles.
But also, including the likes of:
Johannes Sebastian Bach, maestro of sacred music.
Charles Wesley, composer of 6,000 hymns.
Florence Nightingale, nurse and social reformer.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and feminist.
Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.
Blessed be all those who have gone before us, whose lives have shone with the light of Christ.
Be they a lowercase saint or a capital one.
May we also be counted in their number.
When the saints go marching in.