All Saints’ Day and the Stewardship of the Past

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (collect for All Saints’ Day in Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

Polish graves lit with candles for All Saints' Day
In Poland and other parts of Europe, Christians mark All Saints’ by lighting candles at the graves of their deceased relatives – Creative Commons (Chris)

For today’s post at The Anxious Bench, I revisited a talk I gave last year in Duluth, MN on “History as Stewardship of the Past.” I had argued that if time (as much as space) is a dimension of Creation, then our general call to be good stewards of what God has created extends to the past — or, at least, our memory of it. And that would imply certain responsibilities for how we preserve the past, interpret it, and let ourselves be formed by it.

Here’s why I was thinking about this on November 1st:

The theology behind this festival varies from tradition to tradition, but at least in my church, All Saints’ is about remembering those who have passed on from this life to the next. (Which means that we’re probably conflating All Saints’ with All Souls’, but well, we’re Protestants. We also wait till Sunday to celebrate it.) It’s a temporal milestone that we’ve erected: a prompt to set to the side the distracting urgencies of the present and to think about lives that have passed into the past. It enacts stewardship, as a congregation collectively recommits to the responsibility of remembering….

In the process of remembering, many have pointed out, we re-member a Body that is regularly broken. Which means that stewarding the past risks re-opening its wounds.

Read the full piece here — and peace be to the memory of the faithful departed from your lives.


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