Hallo again to all.
Often in our Anglican liturgy we use the phrase 'the communion of saints'. It's in the Apostles' creed. It's in the Easter vigil. It's in the baptismal covenant. It's in the burial service. And in those prayer books having such a thing, the phrase 'the communion of saints' is in the Litany of Thanksgiving. It is for us an immensely holy notion. To us the communion of saints includes all Christians who have ever lived, not just those 'elevated to sainthood' by some church bureaucracy.
Our church celebrates All Saints' Day; South American churches celebrate the closely-related Day of the Dead. But we seem to live day-to-day feeling very close to the communion of saints.
Most of the saints so communing are dead.* We have often made pilgrimages to places where ancient saints are buried and remembered. The feeling of being on Iona among the remains of its long-dead saints is transformative. Cathedral crypts in older cities house the remains of many a saint, along with an occasional Pope. Even the Vatican crypt, with its air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, is a thin enough place for us to feel in communion with the saints on display there.
The vast majority of people that we talk to about it cannot name even one of their great grandparents, though in a patrilineal society the surname of at least one of them will usually be obvious. Certainly there are circumstances in which great grandparents' names were never known, but many of our friends and relatives who have had the luxury of a stable and literate family for 4 generations can't remember the names of their grandparents' parents. The dead are literally forgotten.
We must confess to being absolutely manic about remembering the dead, not just our own ancestors, and taking active steps to commune with them. We sometimes say their names aloud in prayer and give thanks for their lives. Perhaps a century from now people will have YouTube videos of their great grandparents to help them remember, but today we have documents and stones and government records.
We find physical memorials can empower anamnesis as nothing else can. Standing in front of a stone that was placed to mark the reverent return of a saint's earthly remains, knowing that on that very spot ancestors whose names we cannot remember wept at the recent loss and burial. And then walked away, still weeping, but perhaps to return only once a year, if that. But hurry: granite and marble gravestones seem to last only a few centuries; Portland stone from Dorset England seems to last a thousand years or more.
Some years ago we embarked on a quest to find the burial sites of our ancestors. As many as we could find. It was startlingly difficult. Some were in rural graveyards with poor record-keeping. Some were cremated with no record of where the ashes were strewn. Some were lost in wars and their remains are in military burial grounds. Of our 8 great grandparents we have found the grave sites of 5. For two (a husband and wife) we don't even have any record of their death. The calendar tells us that they are dead, but no document tells us where or when or why or how. We may never find that information.
The transformative power of the internet is helping. In North America findagrave.com documents nearly a hundred million grave sites and is growing handily. We've not made any contributions to it, but we keep thinking that we ought.
See you next week.
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