On November 1, barriletes soar above the city. Families fly these giant kites carrying tears and prayers to deceased loved ones. Their colorful designs paint a message of love across the sky.
Throughout Dia de los Muertos, Guatemalans engage in various traditions to draw close to their lost family and friends. From flying barriletes to decorating graves to preparing fiambre – an elaborate Guatemalan dish – each activity connects them to their community, both past and present.
Dia de Los Muertos precedes All Saints’ Day, a church celebration of deceased saints, both known and unknown. The famous names are listed and admired, but congregations also read the rolls of their members lost in the previous year. Families light candles or ring bells in remembrance. All Saints’ Day is a time to grieve, but it’s also a time to give thanks for the people we love most.
We see a similar remembrance written out in the book of Hebrews. After reminding his audience of their assurance in Christ’s sacrifice, the author seeks to encourage them of the power of their faith in action. Chapter 11 lists a litany of spiritual heroes: Noah, who in holy fear built an ark to save his family; Moses’ mother and father, who hid their baby rather than submit to the Pharoah’s edict; Rahab, who courageously stowed away Hebrew spies and was saved from the massacre. Even after writing this extensive list, the author confesses he does not have time to tell of all the saints who have been commended for their faith – nameless men and women who trusted in God, despite living in a world that mistreated and abused them.
We can include our own beloved saints in this list. The Sunday School teacher who helped you memorize your first scripture. The grandparent who prayed for you every night of your life. The sister who cooked every family meal. The nurse who comforted you at your bedside. They might not be written by name in scripture, but they are remembered nonetheless as faithful Christians who blessed us in too many ways to count.
So what are we to do in light of their faithfulness?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
The author of Hebrews wants us to keep running the long race of faith. This is easier said than done. As we run, we lose precious friends along the way. Grief slows our pace. Fears of inadequacy shorten our gait. Obstacles block our path. How do I keep running without my companions? How do I gain ground when all I want to do is turn around? It is easy to grow weary and lose heart
Our connection to our lost loved ones can feel as feeble as a kite string. We long to pull them closer, for them to be on earth with us again.
We keenly feel the divide between heaven and earth. Dia de Los Muertos and All Saints’ Day give us a chance to catch our breath. On these days we remember the crowd cheering us on, waiting for us at our final destination. By faith, we will be reunited with them again.
So on this Dia de Los Muertos and All Saints’ Day, may you remember those who have gone before us. The precious saints who by faith changed our lives. May we remember Jesus Christ Himself, who has paved the way for us to be reunited with our loved ones in eternity.
And then, may we run forward.