For many of us, October 31 is filled with laughing children, spooky costumes, and lots and lots of candy. While all this is a great fun, especially for those of us who are kids at heart (have you seen me in my Spock costume?), what about the day after Halloween, November 1, All Saints’ Day? Within the church, do we spend enough time focusing on and thinking about those saints who have gone on to glory before us? In the midst of our busy lives, do we have time to remember the dead? We adorn our Halloween props with R.I.P., and give a nod to the reality that life is more than is seen with the eye, but taking time to remember the dead, to smile when remembrance washes over us, to grieve our present loss, and to look towards things to come is one of the highest forms of human love.
This was Søren Kierkegaard’s conclusion in an entry in the second series of his Works of Love. In Chapter IX, “The Work of Love in Recollecting One Who Is Dead,” we read: “The work of love in recollecting one who is dead is thus a work of the most unselfish, the freest, the most faithful love.” It is unselfish because the dead cannot repay our affection. It is the freest love because the dead are dead; they make no demands upon us, so ours is a truly free act. It is the most faithful because the dead are changeless, in a sense, while we are subject to change. To recollect lovingly someone locked in time, so to speak, locked in the past amidst our many changes, is to remain faithful to the beloved in a unique way, a way that keeps them “present” and “alive.”
Here, Kierkegaard riffs on St. Paul’s “Love never ends” in 1 Corinthians 13:8, while pointing towards a greater mystery. If I might, I would humbly suggest an expansion and improvement on Kierkegaard’s point. There is One who is faithful beyond all others, and before whom we are lovingly remembered and sustained in eternal memory, namely, God alone. Karl Barth made this point very well when he wrote “no wing-beat of the day-fly in far-flung epochs of geological time” will escape God’s eternal attention and care (Church Dogmatics, III/3, 90). To love our “timeless,” dead beloved amidst our many changes is an act that transcends time and participates, in part, in the timeless quality of God’s life. Put simply, when we remember and love those who have gone before us and who now dwell eternally before God, we rise into a union of love with those who exist in timeless union with the One who holds all in the palm of His hand. We anticipate and participate in the union that is to come, made present in the very flesh of our resurrected Lord Jesus. In that union, we look in hope beyond restful peace towards our rising in glory.
So what does all this waxing philosophic mean, you may ask? Amidst all that chocolate, be sure to remember those who have gone before. Maybe take time over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to remember those who have touched your life, those God has used to make you who you are. When we do that, we are never more fully alive, for we love our departed in a way that looks forward in hope to the eternal, resurrected union we will all share with God through the love of Christ Jesus. Glory be to God!