Wedged between Halloween and election day, two days that capture our focus and imagination, sits an important day for Christians: All Saints’ Day.
Though the practices around All Saints’ Day vary from community to community, on Nov. 1, many Christians turn their attention to the saints.
In my own tradition, All Saints’ Day invites us to remember the saints of our lives and to acknowledge the wounds that form around loss. In our worship, we publicly pray for and name the people in our congregation who have died in the previous year. On this particular day, we mourn, lament, and remember how these people loved us, changed us, and left us.
Grief is a complicated and rich emotion, but too often, humans shy away from it, out of fear of the pain that accompanies death or a traumatic event. We have a tendency to downplay those feelings and to move too quickly into positivity or superficial hope.
But this sort of hope without grief doesn’t allow us to feel a full range of emotion. Humans are not meant to look on the bright side all the time, and a practice of publicly acknowledging grief and mourning, such as All Saints’ Day, can help us find comfort.
With public mourning, we are reminded that grief is not just personal, it is also collective. We have all lost something to the Covid-19 pandemic, and none more so that the families and communities of the over 200,000 people who have died.
While we are still in the throes of this pandemic and the national death toll keeps rising, we have yet to grapple with the loss of life that we have endured.
How will we remember and grieve the death of these saints? In the years to come, when we return to “normal,” how will be keep their memory alive?
Fortunately, there are other public displays of mourning that can help us imagine ways to remember the names and lives behind the statistics.
The Vietnam Veterans’ War Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. lists the names of lost soldiers; they mingle with the viewer’s reflection in the polished black granite.
The National AIDS Memorial Quilt, housed in San Fransisco, is a community art project where every square of the quilt is uniquely decorated in honor of a person who died from HIV/AIDS.
Closer to home, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery challenges the viewer to learn the names of African Americans who were lynched in our own community.
Memorials such as these allow us to remember who we’ve lost to wars, pandemics and racial terror, and some have already begun imagining what a Covid-19 memorial might look like.
Whatever form these remembrances take on, whether it is stone or cloth or metal, they don’t ignore the pain of loss and grief. Instead, they invite us to share in the experience together, and through it, we can find comfort, support, and perhaps even hope.
Caroline Barnett is the associate pastor and campus minister at First Presbyterian Church in Auburn.