We can rely on God to keep our beloved dead.
Published October 10, 2016
After the Civil War, Universalists officially adopted “Memorial Sunday,” observed on the first Sunday of October, “for commemorating those friends who, during the year, have been taken away by death.” This was apart from, and a supplement to, All Souls Day observed on the first Sunday in November. Memorial Sunday was for our own beloved dead, the devastating loss in the war supplying the context.
We tend to think of memorials as a service immediately after someone dies: a funeral where the body is not present. Further, there’s a folk wisdom that has developed that says that the memorial is mainly for the living survivors. There’s a lot of pressure possible in that combination.
Too often the pain and grief over the loss leads the survivors to recast the life of the deceased as they would want it, rather than as is it was. Ordinary people are made into saints; truly bad people get a full pardon by whitewashing. I wonder how much damage these hasty amendments to the lives of the deceased do to those who remain.
Besides the risk of emotional harm, it’s also folly. God knows the truth, and we trust God to know. And as Universalist Christians, we trust God to take our beloved dead and prepare for them a way which ends in their final restoration to holiness and happiness. This preparation is not our role in the memorial service.
Our role is to bear the dead carefully, lovingly and truthfully before God, who makes and keeps promises, and in so doing, we remind ourselves of our limits, capabilities and our opportunity to restore (in whatever measure possible) broken relationships.
And one thing more: we ought to make room in our churches and prayers for the long dead. They stay with us in memory; perhaps praying with us still. And perhaps restore the Memorial Sunday to the first Sunday in October?
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Reminder: The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Revival conferences will take place this week (October 14-15) in one of three places: The Welcome Table, near Tulsa, Oklahoma; First UU Church of San Diego; and First Church in Chestnut Hill. in metro Boston. Unavoidable business will keep me away, but I hope those who attend will have a fun and uplifting time. Register at this site.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells