I probably don’t need to offer an apology for having not written a blog post in a week, but I will anyway. I take my commitment to reflect on the Scriptures quite seriously. I can feel it when I’m not engaging the Bible on a regular basis. Besides, I was only recently added to the list of bloggers linked to by textweek.com, and I don’t really want to screw up something that big and cool. Be that as it may, life’s been downright crazy since 1am on October 20th and I’m only now beginning to feel like I’ve actually slept, like my brain is really functioning, like I have anything cogent to say.
As the secular calendar turns to All Hallows Eve and the Church prepares to celebrate All Saint’s/All Soul’s Day on November 1 and 2, I feel like this last day of my work week is the perfect to time to restart my blogging routine so that I can hit the ground running come Monday. Given where I’ve been over the past week and half, I feel like a reflection on the nature of All Saint’s Day is particularly appropriate, but you’ll have to forgive me if I ignore the RCL lections this week and instead hearken back to the good old days when Ecclesiasticus 44 was read in Episcopal congregations on All Saint’s Day. For those who don’t have a Bible with the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books in it, Ecclesiasticus is an intertestimental book written somewhere in early 100s BC (198-180) by Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach and is often also referred to as “Sirach” or “The Wisdon of Jesus (Joshua) Son of Sirach.” According to my Harper Collins Study Bible, Ecclesiasticus’ great achievement was “to combine the learning typical for the ancient Near Eastern and Israelite wisdom traditions with the commandments of Moses found in the Torah.” A noble task, to be sure, but because the text is so long and the Apocryphal is used so infrequently, (even less now that we’re RCL) most of this book is left to obscurity.
This is a real shame because the lesson from Ecc 44 is quite possibly one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. The NRSV translates verses 1-10 and 13-14 this way:
Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction: those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes–all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
As my family continues to cope with the sudden loss of my aunt and uncle, this passage speaks to me in ways it has not in years past. My aunt and uncle became famous, at least in death, for their requisite 15 minutes, as two of five killed in a particularly terrible accident in a place where five people don’t die at once with much regularity. Their lives became something of a point of interest for a few days, but by now, David A. Russell and Michelle G. Russell, both now buried in peace, can probably be counted as those who have perished as though they had never existed. Except no one really perishes that way, or at least only a few very unfortunate souls do. The vast majority of human beings, when they perish, are remembered by at least one other person. Our lives are constantly intersecting with others. We were created by the Triune God of Relationship to be in relationship. We are all blessed to know and be known by others.
Which is, I think, what makes All Saints’ Day so important a feast day. We remember all those who lives are closely linked with ours, and, if we’re lucky, we take the time to reflect upon those whose lives maybe weren’t so closely linked. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.