In the front of the church, a small altar stands in the middle of the raised steps, holding fourteen red candles. There is a white banner beside this altar with the word RESURRECTION made of gold fabric letters.
Fourteen bells hang from gold cording on this resurrection banner, all various sizes and placed at different levels. Each bell represents one of the congregational members who have died within this past year.
My heart rate quickens and my palms become sweaty as I anticipate having to stand up. The pastor in the front of the church lights a red candle as he simultaneously speaks Chris’ name. I stand up from the pew near the back of the church, holding my two-year-old son in my trembling arms, praying that my shaking knees will hold us up.
Time stands still as others join us within the congregation, standing as their loved ones names are read. I am sure I am not the only one who holds my breath or chokes down tears when the chime strikes once for each one of our deceased loved ones.
It is the first Sunday in November, All Saints’ Day – a day when Christians observe All Hallows Day to honor all saints in heaven. I have only one thought running through my head…this can’t be happening, how is it me and my son who is among this group?
It is now twenty-three years later and like many years since then, I will again be in church this Sunday as we celebrate All Saints’ Day. It will be solemn and sacred, there will be tears shed and poignant hymns sung, including “For all the Saints.” This hymn written by William W. How (who lived from 1823-1897), was about the saints – those who passed on into heaven to be with God.
Reading the many verses, I notice these words:
“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Even though the words were originally written to describe the saints, I think they are just as important to those who are grieving. That battle too is fierce, the warfare long and the triumph song is very distant.
I reflect back to that young widow, barely able to stand up but who chose to fight the long and fierce journey through her grief. My heart is brave once again and my arms are strong! Alleluia!
So on this All Saints’ Sunday I will have true empathy for all those whose loved ones have died, those lives represented in church by a red candle and a chiming bell. Although this time I won’t be asked to stand up, I will offer my life experience to help support those who mourn, have Kleenex ready, and pray for all those who do.