So today is All Saints Day. It’s a day I like to celebrate by thinking about, reflecting on and giving thanks for my ancestors. Honouring our ancestors is very different from worshipping our ancestors which happens in some cultures and spiritualities but not in the great monotheistic faiths…instead we honour or respect our ancestors for all they went through that contributed to who we are today. Judaism particularly continuously looks back to their forebears, great fathers, through the lineage of the tribes and even today at Passover the door is left open and a place kept for the return of Elijah that the story of a people might be fulfilled.
Now I like to think of us as having two kinds of ancestors first of all there are our genetic ancestors. These are the people from whom we have descended and if any of you have ever done any work on tracing your family tree you can find some really interesting characters and stories and some of those will really touch you.
I descended from Irish heritage my family came over in the potato famine and I’ve done quite a bit of study on their lives in recent years and have been in absolute awe of just how they even survived the horrendous conditions. And then having made it to England, in the hope of making a better life, being subjected to racism, cruelty and searing poverty… but that was least better than their lives in Ireland. And once I really understood what they had been through my sense of awe and gratitude and respect for them was quite overwhelming. It made me completely rethink my little grumbles about the boiler being a bit temperamental, or the local supermarket having run out of my favourite brand of GF bread.
And then there are more immediate genetic, or even non genetic ancestors relatives/friends who we have loved and lost, who we still long for, and who made this world a better place for having known them. At this time of the year their photos take pride of place on my little table that represents God’s space and I give thanks for them.
And then we have what we might call our spiritual ancestors so those whom we may or may not have known directly but who were great teachers to us in one way or another. My particular Christian tradition is the contemplative tradition so my spiritual ancestors are people like Julian is Norwich, Meister Eckhart and Thomas Merton, and from The methodist tradition, John Wesley, because I read their works, stand in that tradition and my life is influenced by this.
Some people like my father and my grandmother were both genetic and spiritual ancestors at once.
And so it is at this time of year I spend a good deal of time thinking and reflecting and praying, giving thanks and remembering the impact of all of the stories that have woven together and ended up making me who I am. But what about you? Think for a few moments, what are the family lines and the spiritual lines in your life? Who are the people that influenced you and helped to make you who you are today? If you were to put their photographs on a show on the mantelpiece – whose faces would you be seeing?
And then of course there is Jesus. Is he our ancestor? Well of course without Christ we would not even exist! Through baptism we are a part of Christ’s family, but the term ancestor implies: One that has gone before…. that is a fore father, foremother a fore elder or a forebear. And that doesn’t give us quite the full picture where Christ is concerned. Yes undoubtedly he’s all of those things but the mystery of Christ is his very presence, through the spirit, in the now. That is in every single moment of our living and waking existence Christ remains present to us in the spirit and is closer to us than we are to our own breathing. Of course we don’t usually recognise this and that’s because for most of the time we are not present to Christ. We tend to be fast asleep to Christ, Despite his continuing call to us throughout the gospels to keep awake. The fact is we are almost never aware or awake to Christ in us in the present moment. We might be very good at thinking about him in history, but the fullness of the Christ revelation doesn’t exist in history as such. Rather it exists in the here and now. The more we awaken to this presence in us, the more this revelation will transform lives. This is the great mystery made manifest every in awakened life. And this is precisely why we honour and give thanks for our ancestors but we worship God who is revealed in Christ. It’s a completely different relationship to that which we have with our forebears.
The art of waking up to this is to move the emphasis of our consciousness in a Christ ward direction.We need a daily devotional focus that permeates life, we need to be open to the mystery that is in us and around us or, as Paul puts it, to up open to ‘Him in whom we live and move and have our being’. Make this the center of the wheel of your life around which everything else revolves and you will awaken to the experience of the immanent Christ.
So yes on this, All Saints Day honour your ancestors and give thanks for them. But more than that worship the God in Christ through whom all came into being and who will always be closer to you than you are to yourself