From beginning to end, the month of November is about remembering.
It begins with the Feast of All Saints. In his book, For All The Saints, Stephen Reynolds writes “the Calendar of Saints is meant to jog our memories, to remind us that today or tomorrow is the heavenly birthday of someone whose faith, holy life, and witness to Christ were so great in their own time that they continue to be a cause for celebration by us in our time.” On All Saints Day we remember them all, as the Te Deum puts it – “the glorious company of the saints, the noble fellowship of the prophets, the white robed army of martyrs.” Alongside them stand multitudes of missionaries, scholars, spiritual teachers, pastors, deacons, bishops, reformers, religious, and advocates for the poor.
Since the 11th century Christians have kept Nov. 2 as All Souls Day. People of faith and exemplary service are remembered at the eucharist. They are our family members, our neighbours and friends who have been companions in the journey of faith. They are those who have mentored us in ministry. As we remember them one by one, we light candles and pray that “they may rest in place and rise in glory.”
By mid-month, we are observing Remembrance Day when communities gather to honour those who died in the service of their country and the freedom of the world. Led by war veterans we parade to cenotaphs and participate in solemn acts of remembrance. Flags are dipped, names are recited, and wreaths are laid. The two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. are broken by the well known words of the Royal Canadian Legion – “Lord God of hosts, be with us yet; Lest we forget, lest we forget.”
In recent years we have become acquainted with images of flag-draped coffins bearing the bodies of men and women who have died in the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. We honour their sacrifices. We remember their families and all who minister to them. And we pray “for those who take counsel for the nations that the day may be hastened when war shall be no more and God’s will only shall govern the nations and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God’s love.”
As the month concludes, we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King. Like the baptism of the Lord, this feast calls us to ponder his mission in the world and our commitment to it. Bishops at the Lambeth Conference 2008 took considerable time in doing that very thing. In the reflections document that emerged from the conference, we read, “God’s mission is holistic. Its orientation is toward the redemption of the whole of creation … The Gospel is not just the proclamation of individual redemption and renewal, but of renewal of society under the reign of God; the ending of injustice; and the restoration of right relationships with God and between human beings, and between humanity and creation.” Within that mission, there are many ministries. In many parishes the Reign of Christ Sunday has become an occasion for renewed commitments to those ministries. People prepare for acts of re-affirmation and with the laying on of hands the bishop prays, “May the Holy Spirit who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and of his Kingdom.”
In the spirit of remembering this whole month through, we light candles, we wear poppies, and we renew commitments made in baptism.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.