My sermon from the Mass of Remembrance, on All Souls day, 11/2/17. The readings can be found here, though only the Wisdom reading is referenced.
I want you all to know that in this sermon tonight, I am going to share with you about myself. We’re still getting to know each other. So in thinking about what Lauren preached on Sunday and about how to be true to a night such as this, I want to give you an honest look at me. Not just trying to put my best foot forward. But my actual foot! In case any of you are like me and rather literal, my actual foot is a 10 and a half. Though, unless something dramatic happens, my plan is to leave my shoes on.
There are two things I want you to know about me: the first, which will become incredibly clear in a bit, is that I am the person I am because of some absolutely incredible women who taught me how to be who I am. Some of them are now people whom I love but see no longer. And some of those who have died in my life left a void that for years I struggled to figure out how to fill.
The other thing that I’d like you to know about me is that I am kind of a nerd, and spend a lot of time looking at patterns, systems, trends, cultures, and histories. I believe in order to know who we are, we should attempt to understand both who we are, and how we got here.
In my adult life during this time of year, I have wondered a great deal about why in the world we give out candy on Halloween (please note: this literally never occurred to me as a child). The answer I’ve come to learn is a combination of a couple of Gaelic celebrations.
Both the Scots and Irish, whose influence is deeply ingrained in American culture (and in my personal ancestry) have celebrations that came together to lead to why we give out candy. The first, is that people would go door-to-door at the end of the harvest season and those with extra food would share. The second, is the Gaelic celebration of the dead, Samhain, in which people would dress up like dead people, go door-to-door and demand cake to be appeased.
Honestly, that is a celebration I can get on board with.
And now that we know the history, it’s pretty easy to see how we ended up with people in costume going door-to-door saying trick-or-treat demanding they be given candy in order to avoid a prank.
Who we are today matters. How we got to be the people we are, is where the fullness and richness of what makes us, us truly lives.
And I know that for me, those people who I’ve loved but see no longer, their impact on my life is what makes me, me.
On days like today, and throughout the holiday season, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about who I am, how I got here, and about what those who I love so much would think of me today.
The story of my life is covered with the stamps of those who have helped make me who I am.
I use the word stamp on purpose. Because they have left a mark. Almost like a tattoo that only I can see.
I see and feel the stamps of their influence all the time.
And I remember them every day.
As I left the post office on Monday, I found myself thinking about the best ways to celebrate those who I love deeply and have died.
And I would like to share with you what I discovered.
I honor them by living and in how I live my life.
A life that is a testament to who they were. And by living a life they would be proud of.
That they are proud of.
A life that is a true memorial to them.
Of course, this isn’t always easy. There are times when the remembering is painful. Because, at least for me it is hard to be the one left behind. Scripture, though, is filled with words reminding us that death is only hard for us.
“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”
Until the last few days, I have avoided saying what I am about to say to you. I’ve avoiding saying it because it sounds like such a platitude; to my ears, like a dismissal of my pain, my grief. But in the wake of the terrorist attack on Tuesday, I found myself saying “may they rest in peace, and rise in glory.”
As I said those words, I started to cry. It was the first time I actually got those words. For me, it was the moment that the eternal hope of Christianity finally sank in. Until that moment, the hope I felt, was at getting to see my loved ones again.
But, may they rest in peace and rise in glory is so much more than that.
It’s a prayer. It’s an expression of hope. It’s an understanding that while this makes no sense on earth, the one that I love is resting in God’s hands, and surrounded by God’s love.
Honestly, I don’t know if that gives me hope, but it definitely gives me comfort and peace. And it gives me the push I need to keep going forward.
To keep living.
To keep living a life that they would be proud of.
To remember the lessons that they taught me, the lessons of my history, and to use those lessons to find the best way forward.
Because the only way to truly honor those we’ve loved, is to go forward.
On this night, and every night, when we remember our loved ones, don’t just look back at memories. Let us remember, and then look at our lives. And look for the stamps of those who helped make us, us.
See how we are marked forever by their love.
And proudly carry those marks as we live lives they would be proud of.