Totenfest, All Saints Day, Heroes and Saints

I see a fair number of you have been reading this, from back in 2012, so let’s bring it forward for the rest. It’s one of the few where I talk about my family, and it goes to the purpose of All Saints Day. Enjoy

I’ll bet Totenfest is a new term for many of you, actually, it’s a corrupted spelling of Todtenfest, what it translates as is “Feast (or festival) of the Dead. It has a bit of that German propensity for calling things what they are, like Krankenhaus (house of the sick) for hospital. It comes from the Evangelical church, that strange Prussian hybrid of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches committed by King Frederick Wilhelm III. Totenfest was instituted to remember the soldiers killed in the Prussian war (unless I’m missing something we’re talking about what the rest of us call the Napoleonic Wars). It soon expanded to remember members of the congregation who had passed in the last year.

When I was young my home church (which was Evangelical and Reformed) read the passed members names with a single bell toll after each. It was a moving service which served in lieu of All Saints Day, which is now commonly celebrated on the first Sunday in November, as The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. When I was a kid, and it was still the E&R before the merger which formed the UCC, every Sunday the first hymn was this, which is nearly always appropriate.

Same purpose really, since we in the Protestant tradition tend to refer to those who have gone before us as saints. It is important to remember our forefathers in the faith for the same reason that we all admire the saints in the Catholic tradition. I think our way perhaps makes it even more personal. On  Friday, Jessica over at The Watchtower said this:

All Souls’ day is a time when I pray for the souls of my parents and other relatives now dead. I know many Protestants who ask me why I do so, as they are now with God, and He alone will judge; do I, they ask, think that somehow my prayers will influence Him. I try to explain that this is not what I believe at all. Yes, I believe God makes the decision, and I don’t believe He will be in the slightest bit influenced by me. But it is an act of piety to my dead parents. They are no longer here in the flesh, but that does not mean I forget them, and praying for them seems to me to be a way of saying that I still love them and still care about them.

I completely agree with her, which is not unusual. This is the time of year when I think a lot about and pray for my parents as well, knowing that God will be just, which is enough for me. But I want the folks to know that I still think of them and care about them, and even that I have remembered the lessons they taught me, about many things. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today, even as Jess talked about her daddy in that post you should read.

I was born when my folks were in their forties, so it wasn’t like dad had time or energy to play with me but, he spent a lot of time with me, or maybe the other way around when I was a kid. Many people think I’m a bit of a hard case, they may well be right. The lessons I learned as a child were all about doing things right always and taking responsibility. Sure I learned about electricity and line work and wiring buildings and a bunch of other skills but, the real lessons were about honesty and justice. With dad you never got unearned praise, in truth not saying anything about what you did was usually all the praise you were going to get, screw up and you heard about it though, guess where I learned the catchphrase, always make new mistakes. Doing it wrong because you just didn’t get it was allowable, doing it wrong again was simply unacceptable, and you learned that quickly. One of the other lessons taught was that bad news is not like wine, it doesn’t get better with age. Learning those two lessons will take you quite a way in this life; there are others.

But, in truth, it’s certainly not about me, and it’s not even about dad, it’s about those who have gone before us in the faith. I find it easier to understand if I personalize, and it’s fun for me to talk about dad. Of all the men I have known in a fairly long life, he more than any of them deserved the title of “Lightbringer” for that is what he did for countless rural families in Minnesota, in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and in Indiana. From 1935 until he retired in 1969 he was a man of rural electrification.

That was his mission, nearly from the time he held his father in his arms as he died and so became the head of the family as a junior in high school, until he retired, with honor. Because we in the family understood, even his pallbearers were linemen, and executives from rural electrification, including the President of the Statewide coop. There was no glory in the mission, it was always a struggle, and to his dying day, he regretted being essential in World War II. But his work enabled dozens, maybe hundreds, of farm boys to join the service, without reducing food output. But he never thought he did his part. In truth, he was the most righteous man I have ever known. No, I don’t mean self-righteous, he was never in it for himself, he was there to serve. The old REA Co-op motto fit him perfectly: “Owned by those we serve”. He didn’t write it, he lived it, it was the mission

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

But you know, it wasn’t only him, ever. here’s one of the very few pictures I have from those days, one of the interesting things about it that in the ’60s, many of those pictured here were still on the board of the co-op. I knew most of them, and I wish they were still with us. They too understood the mission. When the couldn’t get the power companies to serve them, they did the thing that d’ Tocqueville had commented on all those years before- they formed an association to do it for them. And they built a very successful business on what the power companies had said could never be done. That’s part of Dad‘s story, but you have to multiply that by thousands of these associations all over the country to understand the accomplishment. For what they did was nothing less than bring the American farmer into the 20th century. These were men that you could make a thousand dollar deal with on a handshake, and never worry. Their word really was their bond. As I commented on Jess’s post, there truly were giants in the earth.

But we are talking about saints, well that’s not for us to say, is it? Of all the men in that picture, I know nothing of what church, if any, they attended. Given the make up of the area, I would guess most were Lutheran, Catholic, or Evangelical & Reformed, and a few Methodists. But I would also bet that many, like dad, were afraid the church would fall down if they entered, and besides they had work to do. I suspect I could count on my hands the number of times that dad attended church, in my lifetime. The other half of that we children and Mom were strongly encouraged to be active members. In fact of the 3 siblings, we have all been officers of our churches. But James 2 tells us:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

To me, by that standard, they are saints indeed. I was going to end with a different hymn but can’t find an appropriate version so I will repeat Jess’s choice of one of the great old All Saints Day hymns.

It strikes me that maybe some of you may read this as me bragging about my dad, and I have been known to do that. But what I am doing here is giving you an example of a man, who lived his life as he felt God commanded, and did his duty.

My purpose is to remind you of the saints, in your family, who have gone before us to prepare the way and to remind you how much we all have to live up to if we wish to be worthy of our forebears.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

7 Responses to Totenfest, All Saints Day, Heroes and Saints

  1. Scoop says:

    I am not one that thinks God ‘changes’ His mind but I do think that in the realm of temporal life we have a tendency to think that God is living by our same clock. I believe that our prayers for the dead, no matter how far in the future from the death of the loved one, can pray for their souls as the prayers from all eternity are in the balance of God’s mind when that soul is judged. He already knows of those who have persistently prayed for this soul (I think of the persistent widow of Luke 18) and the arguments of Moses with God or the reversal of the destruction of Ninevah as examples as well). God leaves no prayer from yesterday, today or tomorrow unheard. And all prayers are weighed in His unerring judgement. To simply not pray for the dead seems to me a sign of a lack of faith, perhaps a weak adherence to honor they mother and father and a violation of the love we are to have for our fellow man (including our enemies). They all deserve our prayer, alive or dead. For these prayers are ever-present in the mind of a God where all eternity is ever-present.

    At least this is how I view my praying for the departed and I have no view of ‘changing’ God’s mind but in having my supplications on the table with all of the other information that God is weighing in the balance. The answer truly is: we do not know the efficacy of our prayers or sacrifices for the repose of a soul and won’t until we too have slipped from this world into the eternal realm of the saints or the lost. I pray that there will be those who pray for me after I am passed and it seems only right that if I desire such, that I should do the same for them.

    “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven; especially those in most need of thy mercy.”

    “And may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Well said. I agree. I wrote this in 2012, and my thinking has clarified since then. I can understand why the E&R said what it said, but I think it wrong. Maybe I’m too Catholic, as Lutheran congregations are wont to say! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Scoop says:

    Like you I struggled with the idea but came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as prayer which is prayed too late. That puts God in this present time and makes Him less than omnipotent and omnipresent and all knowing. So if we think we missed the chance to pray for our dearly departed brothers and sisters I just don’t know how God is not able to have known your future intentions for all eternity.

    I also think as I look at the constellations so far away and that what I am seeing is not truly reality for the moment since the light took thousands or millions of years to reach me. But God is holding it all in existence as it truly is within His mind. Our reality is never perfect for even the light of an object right before our eyes has an infinite number of divisions of time to go through just to get to our brains and to get processed. Not so for God. His reality and His ways are far from ours. All is ever-present in His all-knowing eye.

    God is being itself; the great I AM.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    I do get it. Prayers for the Saints in respectful remembrance and love.
    For the rest, living and dead,…snowflakes, Deep State Jack Boots and pile of dung hands down…come Tuesday. 🙂
    https://imgur.com/a/LMkM3K1

    Liked by 1 person

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