Today is a precious day, one often shaded by the shadow of sadness that arises from our remembrance of those who have gone before us to eternal life. The Feast of All Souls is really the continuation of yesterday’s Feast of All Saint, for we are all — living and deceased — members of the communion of saints, united by the Holy Spirit. This Gospel reading for today’s liturgy is a powerful one indeed and it comes from the Good News according to John:
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
There are, I’m afraid, far too many people who do not believe what it is that Jesus expresses here rather bluntly: God’s will is not to reject anyone, but to welcome all into love and life in God. This is not a call that says we have no free will or cannot choose in some fundamental way to reject the invitation of God’s already always extended offering of love. We can choose something else, but that choice is not God’s will.
People who claim that “so-and-so” is “in hell” or that “so-and-so” is rejected or not loved by God are committing heresy of the most foundational sort. He or she has replaced God (and, more pertinently, the will of God) with him or herself. Such people express condemnation when Jesus, the fullest Revelation of God, has disclosed quite frankly what God’s Will actually is.
In this regard, we hear a corrective in Jesus’s preaching of God’s Self-Disclosure in today’s Gospel. It echoes the recently controversial book, Love Wins by popular preacher Rob Bell, in which he makes an argument for universal salvation. The backlash he received last year was quite astonishing. But at the heart of the discord stood the question: “why do some people care so much about whether one is ‘saved’ or not?” And the bottom line seems to be about control and power — I want to be the one to decides who is in and who is out! I want to be the one to be better-than or greater-than another! I want to feel special, powerful, right, justified, righteous, and so on!
But it’s not about you or me, it’s about the Love of God, which is — as Scripture reminds us time and again — so far beyond what we can comprehend, we create an idol whenever we claim to know its meaning.
As we remember our loved ones and those we might never have met in this life who have died to this world, but have entered new life in Christ, let us take comfort in Jesus’s words to us in today’s Gospel. And, as importantly, may we be transformed by these words to be instruments of God’s love and peace, rather than idolaters of judgement, fear, and discrimination.
The whole communion of saints, ora pro nobis!