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Posted November 05, 2014 in Word Made Flesh:
The Halleluia Chorus in a Cemetery

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

Did you know that those November feasts—All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Christ the King—present a single vision? Read on.


You what?

I walked the cemetery grounds while listening to the "Halleluiah Chorus" from Handel’s Messiah and reading from my favorite book, The Book of Revelation.

Well, thank God you used a portable de-vice with ear phones for the music, Reverend, or we might be visitin’ you in a special hospital facility by now. Where do you git these weird ideas?

Well, as I come to that age when I realize "me ole bones" are getting closer to the cemetery, I realize that the more we forget our past the more isolated we can become, and with isolation can come cynicism and hopelessness. I don’t want to go there at my age!

Besides, the cemetery is blessed ground, and as you walk around and read all those names and pray for them even if you didn’t know the people personally, suddenly you remember somebody from your past who had that same name, someone you had completely forgotten.

You stop, you repeat the name, the name becomes a face, and all sorts of memories start coming back. And you remember that you are part of a wonderful thing bigger than yourself, bigger than your own personal history, bigger than all the folk in that cemetery, and that your meager, little ole life has been filled with people you have long forgotten.

And all those people, all those souls, all of us belong to a history in which Christ is the King. And P.S., you don’t have to worry as much as you thought you did!

I never was much on the history thing myself, I’m pretty much satisfied with the little slice of it God give me and let the rest of it work itself out.

But history is a great teacher.

Maybe, if you’re OK with the same ole, same ole ‘cause all it ever does is repeat itself no matter how long it takes. Shoot, I can tell you exactly what’s gonna happen over the next five hundred years.

Well, for the first 500 years of my life (smile), I was like that too: not much on the history thing, satisfied with the slice God gave me. Same ole, same ole, not much new under the historical sun. And I think there is some wisdom in that attitude for a while in our lives.

Until we have a sense of our own slice of history, we can’t very well think in terms of history as a whole. And even then it can get so big it overwhelms us and forces us back into our own little world simply to survive mentally. There is too much going on all over the world for any one person to grasp or understand it all.

But when I think of "history" over the last 50 years of my life, I think more in terms of individual people and how they lived their "slice" of it.

I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for people who lived and struggled and died as we all live and struggle and will die. And I’m not just interested in "holy" people; lots of folk in the cemetery never were and never will be holy until maybe the Last Day.

Well I’m lookin’ fer answers, Reverend, if fer nobody else than my grandkids! If they don’t’ git some real answers they’re goin’ down the tubes.

But you see, that’s the whole point: that’s why the Church puts so much emphasis on the souls of the departed, saints or not. It is precisely so that we will not forget the life and lessons of those who have gone before us.

It’s when we put those lives and lessons together in our memory that there evolves a history of hope and possibility, that we discover once again "answers" from the past which fit our own present, our own slice of history.

That’s part of the mystery of the Kingdom, that the past has reference to the present and the future. The lives of the past reveal the presence of Christ in history and thus the presence of Christ in our little slice of it.

That’s the only reason a Christian can sing an Alleluia in the midst of all this historical mess, in the midst of all those dead bodies in cemeteries all over the world: because we see something in the mystery of Christ that overshadows all human history without separating us from it.

Well you ain’t never gonna see me walkin’ in the local bone yard listenin’ ta Handel’s Messiah, Reverend, no matter what.

Well, in your language, "ah ain’t askin’ ya to!" Our everyday Christian community provides us with all the Halleluia singin’ we need if we just pay attention throughout the year.

All over the world, almost every day of the year, people visit cemeteries as they recall the wonderful men and women and children there whose lives touched their lives. Those people filled the history of Christ’s Kingdom on earth—saints and sinners alike.

And in every parish throughout the world, people gather to honor the life and death of their own beloved family members, neighbours and friends when they’re buried and once again on All Souls Day.

And, believe it or not, there is a powerful history of reverence for that burial ground and of return to that place of burial regularly by those who remain.

This has always been a blessed part of our proclamation of the Feast of Christ the King, for He is the King of the Living and the Dead, the King of history past, history present, and history still to come.

We don’t want to get locked into the past or the present or the future, but we do want to touch them all and let all of them touch us as we live our little slice of history within the bigger pie.

That’s why I love to walk the cemetery listening to those words and songs from the Kingdom beyond history, "Halleluiah. He shall reign forever and ever. Halleluiah. Forever. Halleluiah…." It’s awesome.

You’re definitely the only person I know who finds cemeteries awesome. If I ever try doin’ that, I’ll guarantee you it’ll be after dark when nobody can see me.

Well, I didn’t do it to be seen, but I must admit that when people back home find out, they’ll probably think it’s better for all concerned that I’m well hidden in the bush up here in Canada after all.

Just outta curiosity, what in thirty-nine worlds of sin could you find to read in a cemetery from the Book of Revelation?

Ah hah! Finally got your attention, didn’t I? How about chapters four and five.

What’s so special about them?

Take a look, my friend. It might change your sense of history!

 

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