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All Saint's Sunday: We Pause, We Reflect, We Remember, We Name our Saints

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day set aside each year in our church calendar for us to remember…. To remember those whom we have loved and lost.  On All Saints Sunday we remember loved ones who have been laid in the tomb. For many of us this is a difficult day.  We grieve, we mourn, we hurt, we cry, we feel the pain of death.   Our scriptures have something to say to us as we do….  Let’s consider todays Gospel from John.  Most study bibles title this section of chapter 11 as the Raising of Lazarus but only 2 verses tell of his return to life—the rest gives space to the grief and trauma of death.  Mary and Martha as well as the community are experiencing the trauma of death and our God does not hush them, Jesus does not say to them, “Dear ones, remember what Isaiah has told us, God has swallowed up death forever.” 

No, Jesus weeps with them.  Jesus weeps tears of grief—fully human, he knows the pain they are in and he is moved, disturbed in his spirit….  He joins them in their pain, their despair, their crying.  Jesus weeps for Lazarus, but I think also for the reality of death in general. Death causes separation and so Jesus weeps for what death does in our lives, what death brings…. And yet, after a time, Jesus speaks the words “Unbind him and let him Go!”

A commentator wrote:  ‘This promise is bursting with resurrecting life. This word is spoken by the one who became human and was put in a tomb, but broke through the pervasive stench of death.’  He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and because of him, death will be no more!  Mourning and crying and pain will be no more--- he IS making all things new.  But we are not there yet and so we grieve, we weep, we remember.   We have lost family members and friends, community members and strangers this year—to cancer, to accidents, to violence, to illnesses.  And over 750,000 souls in our country and 5 million worldwide have died of Covid-19 in 19 months.  I think our grief is also compounded by the fact that we did not grieve in the ways that we have traditionally done so--- funerals were postponed, gatherings were cancelled or limited, people did not travel far, and we literally did NOT weep on many shoulders….

But people, God is aware of our pain, and joins us in our grief and weeping.  So today on All Saints Sunday, we pause, we reflect, we remember, we name our Saints.  As I spent time this week reflecting, a visual image kept recurring.  Three rings, intersecting, connected, one whole in three parts.  The Trinity.  But also, my saints because I realized that when I name the saints whose lives have impacted mine, they fall into 3 categories. Saints whose lives have literally shared time and space with me, Saints who have impacted me but whose lives did not intersect with mine in real-time, and those who are still living but who are very much one of my saints….  

I thought of my grandfather, George Doeden, who died 20 years ago. One of the things I gleaned from him was the practice of sabbath—even on the farm, when Sundays came around each week, you spent time together, you worshipped, you took care of your animals but did not work; it wasn’t a legalistic but life-giving practice of sabbath. His practice of generosity and his humility continue to speak into my life. 

This year, I thought of the Reverend Janet Rawlins who died in the spring, who fiercely advocated for the place of women in ministry and all aspects of life, who faithfully ministered to those whom many considered outcast- the transsexuals who came to Trinidad for Dr. Bieber for example, and who was called to accompany people in many of their darkest days--- all with a calm presence that brought the Holy, our God, to them. For me, the word saint also refers to a person that encourages and challenges me to grow in my faith but whose life did not literally intersect with mine. 

So, I also give thanks for Saints who in the church world might be considered ‘classic saints,’ holy people who have been remembered for their lives of faith and the ways that they still speak into our lives.  Their examples encourage me!  This week I have been giving thanks for Guigo II who lived in the 12thCentury.  You probably have never heard of him—I hadn’t either but recently I began listening to a new podcast that is really connecting with me right now. 

This podcast ‘Turning to the Mystics” is produced by Father Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque and is taught by James Finley who shares meaningful encounters with Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and now in season 4, shares insights from Guigo II.  Guigo II wrote a 17-page letter, The Ladder of Monks, in which he shares a vision of a ladder with the rungs being the spiritual practices of Lectio Divina (sacred reading of scripture), prayer, contemplation and meditation.  How these spiritual disciplines deepen our relationship with God, how they positively impact of our life of faith is the subject of his ancient letter and it is encouraging me. 

So, this week, this All Saints, I am also giving thanks for this Monk whose life did not intersect with mine while he was alive but is blessing me now, informing my life of faith. The third ring or category of Saints that I am naming are the living saints that bless my life.  Now if you look up Saint in a theological dictionary it states that the New Testament only refers to saints in the plural form and refers to all members of churches who are Christians consecrated to God through Jesus Christ.  So, as I look out at you dear people, you are, each and every one of you a Saint that I am giving thanks for!   

I also am naming my husband Paul as one of my living saints.  Now if you know Paul, you might question that -- a friend has said that Paul makes an artform out of cussing! So, he might not fit YOUR model of who a saint is but I love our Lutheran understanding that we are, always, both sinner and saint.  So, Paul, myself, or you are not, let’s say 60% sinner and 40% saint.  Or 80/20 or 90/10!  No, we are 100% SINNER while simultaneously being 100% Saint.  So, I absolutely name Paul is one of my living saints whom I give thanks to God for because not only is he my husband but he has risen up like a sphinx from the ashes of my cancer diagnosis and loves fiercely! Today is All Saints Day and I think it is a day that is really all about love. 

Our love for those Saints whom we name-- the saints who have gone before us who have been near and dear to us, who now reside on the other side of the veil but remain important to us.  The saints whose time did not overlapped with us on this earth yet whom continue to engage us in our lives of faith. And those living saints who love, reflecting Gods light into our lives and the world.  The THREE RINGS!  All Saints is a day of love, hope, and thanksgiving but let’s be honest, it can also be a day of tears.  We proclaim that God comes near to us in our grief, joins us as we weep, while we also are reminded that Jesus demands that we be unbound of our grave clothes and scripture proclaims that God will swallow up death forever!  Let’s hold on to those promises dear people of God.  Amen.  

Now please take those strips of paper you received this morning. They are for you to name some of your saints.  As you pause to give thanks for the lives of those who have been laid in the tombs of this world, write their names down and recall what about that person continues to bless you.   We are going to bless, pray over those pieces of paper this morning.  And if you want a name added to Zion’s ALL SAINTS banner please put an asterisk by their name and they will join the others whom we name and honor as our saints.  You might, like me, include ancient and living saints too.  Thank God for the love you have for them and receive/received from them.  Let’s take a few minutes for this All Saints Day activity and then our ushers will collect your lists of names.