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Life After Death

Life After Death

A sign on a cemetery fence on Mission Boulevard says, “Dia de Los Muertos — Come remember your loved ones in a festive family atmosphere!”  

Now,  I am enough of a gringo to admit that seeing the word “festive” combined with any representation of death makes me pause and think.

My first reaction: Well, death and the remembrance of it should be somber and quiet.  We should wear black and be sad, especially when we are remembering loved ones who have died.  I’m not sure why that’s my first thought but I’m guessing it stems from how death was treated in my family of origin and how it was depicted in the mainstream media as I was growing up.  

Whether my first reaction is familial or cultural, I have learned to recognize that what is mine is not necessarily universal.  Knowing this means I have to take the second step of questioning my assumptions and applying what I’ve learned from friends and colleagues, from working and learning with others, and from other cultures and traditions.

As a Christian minister, two of the “other” traditions I turn to are the Bible and the UCC Book of WorshipIn his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, the apostle Paul explained that death is different for Christians.  It is different because we know that those who have died will live in again in Christ, just as we will when we die.  This knowledge gives us the confidence to approach death with sadness and with joy.

The UCC Book of Worship expresses it this way: When we give thanks for one who has died, we recognize both the pain and sorrow of the separation that accompanies death as well as the hope and joy of God’s promise of eternal love.

Dia de los Muertos is a two-day Latin American celebration that originated in Mexico and that conflates an indigenous Aztec ritual with celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which were introduced to Latin America by the Spanish conquistadores. The first day of the celebration honors children who have died, and the second day honors adults.

Mexican customs amplify themes of Christian hope and joy that my own upbringing lacked.  Mexicans and Mexican-Americans celebrate the dead by remembering what their loved ones enjoyed in life, be it lively music, favorite foods and beverages, dancing, and bright colors.  The offerings are set out on altars to entice the souls of loved ones to draw near and visit, affirming that the dead truly live on in spirit with Christ.

On Sunday, Oct 29, Eden Church will begin preparing for Dia de los Muertos and All Saints Sunday by sharing and making memories at our Making Memories Table after worship.  On Sunday, Nov 5, we will joyfully celebrate All Saints Sunday with bilingual worship at 10 am featuring Spanish guitar music by Jessie Acker-Johnson, our traditional reading of the names of those who died in 2017, and by placing photos and mementos on the Ofrenda lovingly prepared by participants in our Compañeras Ministry.

Come join us for a festive celebration of life, death, and resurrection.