All Saints' Day
I have officiated the Burial Office seventy-nine times in the thirteen years and one month I have served as the Rector of St. Paul’s Church. To be honest, I don’t remember some of the people for whom I offered these sacred prayers. Others I think of often. One was a young husband and father, another a young mother and wife. One was a brother. One was a son whose father I buried a year later. One was a curmudgeon, another was a four-foot/eleven-inch cyclone of energy in the parish who constituently reminded me I would miss her when she was gone… and she was right!
Those who were active in parish life each made a unique and irreplaceable contribution to our work and mission. Some sang in the choir or served on the Vestry. A few were faithful to our food pantry ministry. One used a backhoe to install the vaults of our columbarium and a barbeque grill to roast the lamb and chicken for our Agape Meals. Some were second or third or even fourth generation members of the parish, faithfully following in the footsteps of their ancestors’ witness of service to our church and to our community.
About a third of the burials involved a loved one of a person who most likely is watching today’s live stream. They flood your memories often and especially on this All Saints’ Day. You can see their faces, hear their voices, and perhaps even remember the feel of their touch. You have a memory giving rise to a smile on your face or maybe even makes you laugh out loud. You have a memory bringing tears to your eyes. Perhaps you have a memory of something left unfinished or something you wish could be undone.
Seventy-nine feels like a big number, but it pales in comparison to the burials held here before I began to serve as your rector. And it pales in comparison to your loved ones who were buried from a different parish or in accordance to a different tradition. “All those we love but see no longer” is an incalculable number.
This year I miss our All Saints’ tradition of writing names on streamers of paper and suspending them above the Chancel. As the streamers move and dance in the air it is as if the presence of all those we love but see no longer is revealed. They are with us and we sense they are much, much closer to us than we imagine.
Our Eucharistic liturgy invites us to “join our voices with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.” It is a powerful reminder more is happening in worship than can be experienced through the senses - who we see and what we hear. Christian tradition speaks of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. The Church Militant is comprised of those of us who are currently engaged in the struggle to make the Kingdom of God the kingdom of this world. The Church Triumphant consists of those people who fought the good fight and God has exalted to heavenly glory. As we gather at the Lord’s Table the entire Church – Militant and Triumphant – is always present.
Every time we say or sing the Sanctus something amazing is happening. We join our voices with the voices of the Church Triumphant in a single chorus of praise proclaiming God’s holiness and glory. Our voices are joined the voices of Billy, George, Peter, Esta, John, Eva, Doc Thomas, Art (although he might be carping about why more people are not in attendance), Stephanie, Vivian, Francis, Walter, Betty Anne, Shirley, Marie, Henrietta, Vince, Jack, Johnny, Curtis, Sue, Connie, Tom, Esther, Matthew, Carol, George, Wynter, and so many, many others.
It seems to me All Saints’ Day, like Easter, is a day of respite from our sense of grief and loss. On Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and so many other days of personal and public remembrance, we experience an acute sense of who we have lost. Yes, time heals (to a certain degree), but scars marking loss remain and prove naggingly resilient and painful to the touch. But Easter and especially All Saints’ are different. Today is a day when we live into the hope of our faith, when we allow the doctrine and teachings of the Church (based on the unbreakable promises of our Savior) to sink in… and sink in deep. Today is a day when each of us acknowledges the loss of seventy-nine dear souls (or whatever the number is for you), yet embraces or grasps or clings to or rests and relaxes in the knowledge the Triumphant exist in a bliss beyond our imagining, are nearer to us than we can ever know, and one day (guided by our Good Shepherd) we will be led to a place of reunion with all those we love but see no longer.