There’s a bridge spanning the A38 near Burton-on-Trent that’s covered in bouquets and posies. I drive under it every day, dimly aware that the bridge is now a memorial, a means of remembering a young woman who fell to her death in September. For a few seconds during a long commute I’m reminded of life’s fragility, linking that bridge to all the other flowers tied to lampposts that mark the passing of a stranger’s loved one.
Today is Halloween, traditional day of kids donning fancy dress and adults ignoring the doorbell, but in the liturgical calendar it marks the start of Allhallowtide, a three day season celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls Day; in the UK the period is sometimes extended to incorporate Remembrance Sunday, red paper poppies joining graveside bouquets. In short, it’s a season for commemorating the departed, for celebrating the lives of those who’ve gone before us.
Certainly in my tradition we don’t do much with this, possibly due to suspicion over Halloween itself. But there’s something in the idea of a season of communal remembrance, a time in which our communities can come together and celebrate those we’ve lost. Maybe it provides a time of solidarity with friends and family who still grieve, be those scars new or ancient. “Mourn with those who mourn,” Paul once said. Allhallowtide might be a good reminder of that.
Sometimes this act of remembrance is tied up with justice. Speak the names of those killed by violence, by the abuse of power, by legislation that victimise the most vulnerable among us. Speak out against the school shootings and the bad cops, the beheadings and the vests full of explosives, the domestic abuse and the cluster bombs. Speak out and remember, because if our theology is divorced from justice and grace and love then it’s not worth the shelf space.
And if we end this season with Remembrance Day then we remember the fallen, both those lost in battle and those who fell but lived on. Remember the PTSD and the suicide rates and the homelessness. There are other kinds of loss that shouldn’t be forgotten.
It’s Halloween. The sun will be going down soon, and a largely forgotten season of memory will commence as the earth freezes over and dies and sleeps, awaiting its Easter in the spring. But in the cold of November, poppies and flowers tied precariously to lampposts could transform the dark; transform the memories of death, the memories of all saints and all souls and all wars into celebrations of life; could keep the fires of love and justice burning as we head ever onwards into winter.