The Democracy of the Dead

By the Reverend Dr. William A. Evertsberg

All Saints’ Day falls on a Sunday once every six years at most, but that’s what’s happening on November 1.

I’m glad for that, because this holy day might be more resonant for many of us in a year when death seems so prominent in the media and in our personal lives.

We’re surrounded by it. Nationally, there were almost 300,000 more deaths in the first three quarters of 2020 than would ordinarily be expected. Those images of COVID-19 patients dying alone in isolated ICU’s were chilling. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.

All Saints’ Day is the holy day when the faithful remind themselves that the Christian Church has two parts—Militant and Triumphant. Our departed saints might be gone from our sight but not from our hearts, minds, and lives. They continue to shape our souls and our character as if they were still breathing.

With Election Day coming up two days later on November 3, we’re going to be talking a lot about democracy this week. Voting, of course, is THE singular lynchpin of every true democracy.

More than that, though, English raconteur Gilbert Keith Chesterton said that wise institutions and societies practice “the democracy of the dead.” That is to say, wise institutions and societies continue to give to the dead a seat at the table where communal decisions are made. Even though they are gone, the lives they have lived and the long shadows they cast continue to shape our common life in profound ways.

So on November 1, we will think about the democracy of the dead. “We will have the dead at our councils,” insisted Mr. Chesterton.

And then on November 3, we will practice the democracy of the living by casting our vote, an extraordinary privilege that only gets passed down to the next generation if we all take advantage of the free person’s greatest gift: a seat at the table where the decisions are made.

October 28, 2020

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