All Saints Day: No One is Lost

Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Mother to us all. Amen+

There is only one movie worthy of our celebration of All Saints and that is the great Pixar film Coco. If you haven’t seen it, cancel your plans for tonight and rent it.

Yes, it’s animated. Yes, it is theoretically aimed at children, but it will give you ALL the feels, and it captures much of what we do here on this day. Coco captures the Mexican tradition of remembering the dead, honoring them, mocking death a bit even while embracing death as part of life.

The story is of a little boy, Miguel, who wants nothing more than to be a musician but whose family forbids all music because of a great-great-grandfather who reportedly abandoned his family to pursue fame with his guitar.

On the Day of the Dead, Miguel is mistakenly transported to the Land of the Dead, a colorful, lively place where he meets all those who look forward to Dia de los Muertos when they will be remembered, brought back to life as their families gather in graveyards, throw parties, honor them with flowers, libations and food, and tell stories of their beloved dead.

Miguel also learns the despair of the dead who no longer have anyone to remember them in the Land of the Living, which means they will disappear entirely, fading into nothingness.

This is the Mexican notion that we all face three deaths: the first when your body dies; the second when you are committed to the ground, returning to the natural cycle; and the third and final death when there is no one left who remembers you. You fade away, no longer even a part of the land of the Dead. It is this death that Dia de Los Muertos is meant to forestall.

This ancient tradition—more than 3,000 years old, of Aztec and Mayan origin—was baptized when the Spanish invaded, and was incorporated into the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

Remembering the dead, keeping their memories alive, that is what we do on this day. In some churches, the litany of the saints is said or sung on All Saints, and the necrology—names of the dead of the parish—are read on All Souls. Here at All Saints we bring all these days together in one glorious feast of color and music, sadness at remembering those we’ve lost, joy in remembering those we love.

We here at All Saints refuse to lose those we love to the third death.

That’s why we hang these names overhead: the names of loved ones—parents and grandparents, friends and spouses, the famous and the every day, those who died at home surrounded by loved ones, those who died violently of gun violence, and all the many in between.

No one should be forgotten.

That’s the tension of the movie. Miguel, caught in the Land of the Dead, now in danger of getting stuck there, is befriended by a soul now in danger of being forgotten. This spirit guide desperately tries to help Miguel get back to the land of the living so that Miguel can remember this soul HERE before he fades away completely.

Now, in case you haven’t yet seen Coco, I won’t spoil the ending: I’ll let you watch and weep on your own!

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But I will tell you the ending of another story, and no spoiler alert is necessary, for you’ve already heard it.

In one of the last chapters of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, we hear the end of a story, our story, THE Story of our entire salvation history—what awaits ALL of us.

There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God will not draw us up but will come to dwell with us, conquering death forever. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. All things will be made new; all the saints—all of them! You and me; those who flutter above, those yet to come—all will be gathered together as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, kiss in eternity.

While in exile, St. John the Divine writes these promises to the seven churches entrusted to him, a community in pain, a community suffering persecution. From his island exile, John writes not words of anger or revenge, but words of comfort, reminding his people that they are members of a heavenly city, a new Jerusalem, that is merely obscured by the suffering and pain they are experiencing due to an earthly city—empire—of Rome, code-named “Babylon” in this Revelation.

In the midst of their confusion and pain, St. John assures his readers that God has ALREADY triumphed, the Victory has been won over our ancient enemy Death, even though it doesn’t exactly look that way . . . yet.

The victory is won, for certain and forever, and when we face sorrow—the death of those we love, the long, dragging months of pandemic fear and exhaustion—it’s good to know the ending.

Knowing the ending won’t spare us from pain but it does provide the hope we need. Though death still prowls the earth, God has destroyed Death, capital “D,” in Jesus Christ, swallowing up death forever. All the saints will be gathered together; there is NO third death. No one will fade away from existence. No one will be lost. No one is forgotten, whether anyone in the Land of the Living remembers them or not. Not you. Not me. Not those we love.

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The great novelist Toni Morrison wrote, “Something that is loved is never lost.”

When my father died on the last day of 2020 I was bereft. He would never have put himself in the category of “saint.” He would be shocked to find his name among those fluttering above us today, but he was at the heart of my world. So I did what we do now in this electronic era—

post a remembrance with photos on Facebook—and I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of condolence and memories, but the comment that caused me to burst in the tears was written by an acquaintance from years ago, who wrote simply, “Alan Wille ¡Presente!” a tradition begun after the martyrdom of Jesuits and their companions in El Salvador. When their names were read, the people responded ¡Presente! “We are here!” exclaiming defiantly that neither death squads, nor death itself, can erase us.

That’s why we write the names of our dead. To remember them, yes. But also to remember that they can NEVER be lost. For they are in the mind of God forever.

And, so, today we say defiantly, in the face of our ancient foes of Sin and Death: Alan Wille ¡Presente! Elizabeth Puckett ¡Presente! Bill Kenneally ¡Presente! {Names from those listed on the flags above} ¡Presente!

All those we love but see no longer are not lost but present in the great cloud of witnesses, which we are part of now, and which we will enter fully after death, and which we will grow today by six more, baptizing our children into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, promising them what we know to be true:

The victory has been won.

Something that is loved is never lost.

And we are ALL loved by God.

¡PRESENTE!