Tomorrow is All Saints Day and as in most years, it’s a time when families go to the tombstones of their dearly-departed loved ones. The metropolis roads are close to empty as most people are back in their provincial hometowns. And the normally eerie cemeteries become festive with droves of candle-bearing, fruit-basket-carrying aunts and uncles. The white-washed tombs are heavily-decorated with pasted color paper. Some are in roofed mausoleums while others are under neatly-manicured lawns. You can kind of guess it’s a Chinese clan’s when there’s a small drum of burning gold paper on the side and extra large red candles embossed with red dragons.
Growing up, I never quite understood what November 1 meant, except that I knew it’s coming when scary stories are featured on television and the Halloween costumes line up along the escalators of SM Department Store. Then I knew that it’s time for the pilgrimage to the crowded cemetery to do the customary lighting of incense sticks to my grandparents. Sometimes I’m given two sticks, sometimes three. When I was in fifth grade, my mother told me to ask my grandfather to help me study better. I don’t know how he’ll do it lying on his tomb, but apparently if I ask it from him while waving the incense sticks with my two hands together, he’ll find a way to make it work. True enough, I made it to Top 3 that year and I wonder if it’s the wish I made or it was because I was just more studious that year because a family trauma kept off all other distractions in my life.
Now that granted, it doesn’t justify having a twisted view of what All Saints Day is. I hear that other people say it’s when the souls of the dead people roam around and pick up from where they left off. That’s why the people who are alive offer food, flowers, and burn incense to appease their spirits. Then I hear that some people don’t believe in such but just visit the tombstones of their loved ones to be reminded of their days together in the past. This sounds biblical because reading through the Old Testament I can pretty feel how God wanted us to remember our ancestors, for both their mistakes and good deeds. Of course we don’t want to follow their failures and we’re expected to learn from them, and we’re supposed to be encouraged by how they followed God and walked in the right path.
With that, I remember my dearly-departed AE who took care of me for 24 years before she went to paradise. She showed me how it was to be a servant of the people whom she chose to serve. She would complain and whine and get mad, and sometimes I would think that disqualifies her from being a good servant. But somehow, I realize that’s what makes her…real. I visited her weeks ago in the province and before her tombstone I asked her why she had to be gone so soon. I was mad at her for being too quick to let go at 76 when she could have waited for me to make a name for myself whom she’ll be proud of. How can she see me walk down the aisle or how can she accompany me to my trips abroad when she went rushing back home too soon, I lamented. The air stilled after my protest. There were no sounds or emotions apart from the ruckus of the children who were staring at me and asking if I needed help in sweeping the tomb. I politely said no. No tomb-sweeping can clean up the memories of the past, not even for the sake of the P20 the children were asking for.
Remembering a loved one has its way of scraping so many raw emotions. And I remember what the Bible says about being witnesses to these great people. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
The above passage reminds me that instead of looking down on the tomb of my loved one with so much drawn-up confusion, anger, and doubt, I should look up, up to Jesus who saw everything, who started and finished the race, who made my dearly-departed loved ones finish the race too, and who will make me finish mine, up until the end.
Someone once said that life on earth is just a matter of who goes first and who goes after. Everyone finishes at one point in time. Just like a race. When you’re stuck in the middle and the time gun shoots, then I suppose it’s rapture. But normally, we get to finish the race at the pace we were built for, cheering on to our left and right for those contemporaries, aiming for those ahead of us, and if we’re kind-hearted enough, turn our heads back and wink on the ones behind.
And I suppose that’s how life is supposed to be lived. Racing. “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.
The Bible also mentioned about delighting in the saints who are still on earth. In Psalm 16:3, David says “As for the saints who are on earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” So All Saints Day doesn’t just mean going to the cemeteries and remember the dead saints. It’s also a time to honor those who are still among us. Top on my list are my pastors and mentors throughout the years. They’ve seen me crawl in the faith, answered my doubting queries, shook heads on my delinquencies, mentored my life direction, and were basically witnesses to my life here on earth. If I were to name these heroes who would make it to my hall of fame, it would be a dramatic list.
I’d spare the drama and instead commit them to a prayer of thanksgiving. Occasionally, I should say hi to them, too, and make them feel that they are being delighted upon. God has been very good to me for letting our roads cross. Without such saints, I wonder where this sinner could be found.
So on the occasion of All Saints Day, I remember the saints who have moved on to be with the Saint of Saints and delight in the living saints who are in the land.
Happy All Saints Day to all, if I could even say such! Remember your saints and most of all, remember our God who made saints out of the sinners in us for His glory!