Last night Derry had great crowds on the streets to celebrate Hallow E'en. And, along with two of my priests, I walked the streets with them. For thousands it was an evening of innocent fun. And this morning there will be lots of good memories, a few embarrassing moments – but little else. Such celebrations are memorable – but without much substance.
Our Church tradition has always favoured celebrations – but also tries to offer meaning. These next two days – All Saints and All Souls – offer that meaning. Hallow E'en made space for the child in us. Today takes us seriously as adults.
And in these two days, priority is given, not to All Souls and the remembrance of the dead, but to All Saints and the celebration of God's grace in their lives. That offers us a context for living and for dying.
Firstly, our Gospel of today (the Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-12) says that we are capable of great sanctity and heroism. The first chapter of the Bible says that all creation was good – but that man and woman were created as 'very good'. The Bible keeps telling us that we are offered an intimate relationship with the Transcendent, who made us in the divine image and likeness. We have a view of human nature which says that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to be the Lamb of God, who takes away sin, so that our bodies might become Temples of the Holy Spirit.
Our culture tells us that we should expect little for ourselves and we will not be disappointed. Christian faith tells us that we should expect a lot from ourselves and, through God's grace, we will not be disappointed.
Jesus tells us to think big – and to tell our young people that they can be generous heroes, saints – and not just self-referential couch potatoes.
Secondly, our first reading (Revelations 7:2-4, 9-14) tells us that we are not alone on our journey. The Creed talks about the 'communion of saints'. We belong together in the Body of Christ. The saints are willing us on and we are invited to join them.
Our great tradition of saints and statues is not some substitute for God. But the saints offer us memories and models of holiness that ordinary people could achieve through grace. We are part of 'an innumerable number from every nation, race, tribe and language'. That is part of the biblical picture that we celebrate today.
Thirdly, our second reading (1 John 3:1-3) proclaims the liberating message that life on earth is not as good as it gets. Not all our hungers will – or need to – be satisfied here. We are made for heaven and not just for holidays, for eternity and not just for eternity rings! The three great monotheistic religions also make no space for reincarnation. Why? We don't have to get it right here the first time. We believe that the divine reaches out to us in love and solidarity. We are asked only to yearn for salvation, to reach out for it – and not to believe that God is called Gucci.
Finally, all of this is the context for last week's Vatican statement about hurrying the ashes of those who have been cremated. Our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit, they will be raised up on the Last Day and, her and hereafter, we belong not to ourselves but to Christ.
That belief points to the need to treat our living bodies and our dead remains – in coffins or in ashes – with enormous respect. There is a link between how we treat our bodies in life and in death.
Thus, last week's teaching was not some harsh new law but a reminder of what today's feast teaches us about who we are and what we can become.
And if we have understood what today's feast celebrates, then we can have celebrated Hallow E'en with joy and not in fear. And we are prepared for tomorrow, to remember with love and faith, all who have slipped through our fingers, that they might be held up by the fine strong hands of the God who made them in love, offered healing through the Cross and still wants us all to share divine life as saints.
Happy feast day, one and all.