The people of long ago are not remembered;
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
This scripture says: we are all forgotten after we die. To the contrary, however, I think that the lesson of the season–conveyed by the traditions of Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, and All Souls’ Day–is that the dead are alive to us in memory. Perhaps both of these things can be true: those who pass away could be forgotten by current and future generations–or we could keep their memories and legacy alive. To do so is a conscious act, and rituals like the ones celebrated at this time of year in Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, and All Souls’ Day help to keep the ancestors present in our lives.
One more thing about this passage from Ecclesiastes: here we have a writer from more than two thousand years ago, whose words have survived generations and have been passed down to us through multiple languages. This fact alone, ironically, disproves what the writer is saying: no, the generations of yesterday are not forgotten–here we have proof of that in the words of our ancient ancestors.
The second passage that I am sharing today is the one that I find most evocative in my reading of Ecclesiastes:
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
At first this seems to be a riddle or a paradox: streams are always flowing to the sea, yet the sea is never full. This suggests the infiniteness of the sea. But science tells us what poetry does not: that water cycles continually, from ocean to cloud to rain to streams…and back to ocean. This is why I say that this passage is also relevant for this time of year when the dead are said to be close to the living. The cycle of water is like the cycle of death and life. In our living existence we are like the flowing stream. The stream meeting the ocean seems like the death of the stream, but in reality the water continues its flow. May we, like the waters of the living stream, be aware of the water in its other forms–may we be aware of the lives that have gone before us and the ones who will follow after we are gone.
Spirit of Love and Life, bless the author or authors of Ecclesiastes, wisdom in an ancient text preserved through the miracle of human intentions for millenia. Bless the translators and scribes and scholars who bring this text to us today.
May we know and feel the connection between ourselves and previous generations of humans. May we celebrate their wisdom, learn from their mistakes, and keep them alive in our memory.
Rev. Andrew Frantz