all Saints’ Sunday
Last weekend, my family and I traveled from Lancaster all the way up to Scarborough, Maine. It began when my uncle and his wife from North Dakota had a little bit of vacation time and thought it a good idea to fly from Bismark to the coast of Maine to visit his sister.
Such distances keep us from seeing each other all the time. So when word came around that Uncle Bill and Aunt Pam were traveling to the east coast, it became a homing beacon of news. Family in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania all felt the call to come home. Like geese flocking and flying together. We landed in the cozy abode of my parents and somehow fit 15 people in a house built for 2. We shifted furniture and found chairs and saddled up shoulder to shoulder. We made our rounds sharing stories and news. For some of us we hadn’t seen each other for 25 years. That’s a lot of stories and a lot of news to catch up on!
I think after the third helping of a good family meal and the first helping of dessert, I found myself looking around and seeing the many smiling eyes returning my gaze. In the room filled with people, I found myself looking at the holes.
You know those holes?
Some of us weren’t there because at the last minute work called and we couldn’t make it. Some of us weren’t there because we were at home with another branch of the family. Some of us weren’t there because we’ve been called back to another home. Our eternal home.
And for the holes who are left by loved ones who have died, we found ourselves telling stories about them. Trying to fill those holes with beloved memories. Oh remember the time when Grandma tried to walk the dog and the dog walked her… oh remember that time when you first met Aunt Lynn and she wrapped you in her arms… oh remember that time with Dad and the snowball of destiny…
We all have those stories. The stories we tell to fill the holes in our lives. They somehow invoke our loved ones to be with us again…our family who we have loved and released to God’s care. The communion of saints.
They surround us, the communion of saints.
When we speak about the church triumphant, we speak about them. The people who we knew and loved and laughed with…and yes sometimes really argued with…who helped fill the fabric of who we are. They have been sainted by the one who makes them holy–our almighty God.
This Sunday we recall and remember our beloved members of our congregation who have been sainted by God’s goodness.
And I think of the stories. The stories of their faith.
Their witness to us. Like Dan Johnson who mentored the youth in the congregation. There are some of you who sit in these pews that were taught by Dan many, many years ago. His witness, his impact, his presence mentored and molded you. I think about Marie Kratzert who spent a lifetime teaching Sunday School and preschool at St. Peter’s or Mary Kammerer who witnessed to God’s love as a spouse, mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother, who everyday faithfully read and knew her Bible better than most pastors (yours included!)
Some of our beloved family of faith who have been called to their eternal home not only left their imprint near within our congregation, but touched many lives beyond our walls, as well. For servants like Harriet Ranck and Christine Mummert who in their own ministries touched our congregation, and impacted and invested in God’s mission throughout our nation and the world.
And those are only the few saints who we have loved and released into God’s care. These are the communion of saints who are here with us in the body of Christ.
The many who we have loved and released into God’s care join us when the curtain that divides this kingdom from the heavenly one becomes more thin. These saints are with us, among, and surround us whenever we gather here to share in the body of Christ. Around this holy table, sharing in this holy meal. Christ’s body and blood bridges the here and the hereafter–the now and the not yet–the promise made and the promise fully lived into.
Brought together the saints of the church triumphant, with we who still walk by faith, taking one step at a time.
Back in Scarborough, our family reunion ended with the mandatory picture taking. We all poured out of the house into the front yard. A random, but quite lovely and patient neighbor, was pulled in to take the picture. And had the ability to speak over our constant talking to give us directions, “Squish in! Squish in more! Really squish in…like you love each other!” And with that the picture taken captured our gathered family–and somehow captured the family who was there in spirit and in memory, as well.
The sun was setting now and family began to depart–driving back to the places from whence they came.
Being right on the coast of Maine, we promised our daughter that we would visit the beach… she reminded us of this promise the entire day. So with the sun set and the stars coming out, we arrived at the sandy dunes, and took the trail that led to the promised beach.
Erik led the way with a small light emitting from his phone. Elsa followed after and I trailed behind. It was really dark now. I could hardly see the trail ahead of me leading through the dunes to the promised beach before, but the little light shining ahead drew us forward. Step by step.
At one point Elsa began to get nervous. It was so dark. The ocean seemed so loud. The world so unknown. But with a step at a time, I heard my husband offer the promise,
“Just follow my light. We’re almost there.”
“Are we going the right way, Daddy?”
“Just follow my light. You’re almost there. I promise.”
“Focus on the light. We’re here with you. We promise.”
We arrived on the beach, and the sheer awesome force of the waves boomed against the shore. Elsa began to shake from its magnitude and power.
We held her tight and turned off our light.
“It’s so dark!” she cried. We held her tighter whispering into her ear,
“You are safe. We have you. Look up!”
And that’s when she saw the heavens.
Thousands of lights surrounded us.
Thousands of stars.
As we stared up into the dark sky I remembered God’s promise made long ago to Abraham.
“Look up at the sky and count the stars–if indeed you can count them…so shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
Offspring of the promise included Jacob and his 12 sons who led to the 12 tribes of Israel.
Offspring who brought forth King David’s faithful service to the Lord.
Offspring who branched to the small place called Nazareth where Mary had the faith to say yes to God’s plan and Joseph had the courage to protect her.
And among those stars came the promised Savior, our Lord Jesus. And from Jesus the story of promise and salvation opened up to me and the people who I have known and loved and released into God’s care. All part of the communion of saints–like the stars–too many to count.
All offspring of God’s promise.
And you are part of this promise, too.
You are part of the great cloud of witnesses. You are witness to God’s work in you and in the many who surround the tables in your life.
And you are here today because of a light in your life.
You are part of the story.
You are here today because another light, another sainted member of the cloud invested in you, mentored you, modeled to you what following Christ looks like.
You are here today because Christ’s spirit worked in and through someone in your life. And their witness, their work, their light, their life made you who you are today.
They led you through dark paths, they provided light, they provided words that gave you the courage to put one foot in front of another.
In the words of Mr. Fred Rogers–pastor and mentor and sainted child of God–
“Anyone who has ever been able to sustain good work has had at least one person – and often many – who have believed in him or her. From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”
And you are part of this communion of saints. Someone will know God’s love because of you. Someone will experience the fruit of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control–through you.
Through you another will see the light that is the Christ.
As we hear in our baptism, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
So friends, fellow sheep of the one fold, fellow sinners of our Savior’s redeeming, fellow sinner and saint–
remember to shine. Shine your light for the glory of the Lord.