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All Souls Day by Jules Bastien-LePage
My husband, Dan, has recently begun pastoring a church in Lebanon, PA. Yesterday the church celebrated Totenfest, a remembrance for those in the congregation who had died during the previous year. As names were read, a candle was lit and a chime played from the organ.

Falling on the first Sunday of November, Totenfest coincides with the celebration of All Souls Day/All Saints Day Sunday in other liturgical churches, where Christians remember the connection through the centuries with those who follow the Lord of Love. During the children's sermon, Dan asked if any of the children had ever been on stage, and if so, if they remembered what it was like to have an audience cheering as they performed. He then read this passage from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Last May I went to a conference in Ottawa, and it happened to fall on the weekend of the Ottawa Marathon. Early Sunday morning I walked from my hotel room to the city center to do some sight-seeing. The streets were almost empty, except for those lined by spectators watching the race. I couldn't help but be drawn to the cheering. The sound was constant, regardless of whether the runners were personally known to the crowd. Hands clapping, bells ringing, shouts of "great job, keep going" - all created a glorious cacophany of energy pouring into weary bodies. It was a powerful moment.

Others applauding our efforts is a source of empowerment. But this connection is made even more intimate by Jan Richardson, whose blog  The Painted Prayerbook is a resource for art, reflections and blessings that follow the liturgical year. In this prayer, written for All Souls Day, Richardson imagines that the witnesses are not only above us, but within us. We are truly inspired by the company we keep, she says, it's just that we forget. 

Prayer

God of the generations,
when we set our hands to labor,
thinking we work alone,
remind us that we carry
on our lips
the words of prophets,
in our veins
the blood of martyrs,
in our eyes
the mystics’ visions,
in our hands
the strength of thousands.


Like pearls on a strand, we are linked to those souls who have run the race before us. The Kingdom of God is not limited by space or time. We are taught to believe that we are always connected by the Spirit of God to our Abba God. But we are also connected through that same Spirit to those who share the Spirit of Christ. They, along with Him, encourage us, inspire us, guide us, pray for us. No matter where we are, we are not alone.



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