“In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them. In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them. In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them. When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them. When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them. So long as we live, they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
You may not be aware of it, but this prayer comes from the Jewish Yom Kippur service. We use it every All Saints Sunday as we read the names of members of Abiding Savior who died this past year. We read it as we remember family and friends who are no longer with us, who have joined the great cloud of witnesses. Even though they are not present in bodily form, we still feel their love and encouragement. We draw on their wisdom to help us navigate the challenges of life.
We will recite this prayer together later in our worship service. Needless to say, it’s especially meaningful this week, as we remember the lives of those who were murdered in a senseless act of violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Since my family is from Pittsburgh, and my Mom lived close to Squirrel Hill, it felt personal to us. These are our people, our neighbors.
After hearing the news, I spent some time checking in with friends who still live in Pittsburgh. They were shocked and saddened that this happened in their beloved city. It felt like another huge piece of bad news piled on top of other pieces of bad news.
As I’ve been reflecting on how we should respond to senseless acts of violence such as this, I came to the conclusion there are two options. The first option is that we can let grief, fear, and anger overwhelm us. We can retreat to our houses and hide there. We can stop going to large gatherings and constantly look behind our backs, to see if something bad is coming our way.
OR the second option is that we can refuse to let the darkness win. We can continue to love fiercely, serve compassionately, and care deeply. We can reach out to those who are hurting and grieving and stand in solidarity with them. We can refuse to let the divisiveness we’re experiencing in our nation get the best of us.
I don’t think I need to tell you which option I choose. But if there is any doubt, I choose the second option. The reason for this is that as a follower of Jesus I can do no other. As a citizen of a kingdom that is already but not yet, I choose to act as if God’s reign is fully in place, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
This is exactly what I did Sunday afternoon. I picked up a Jewish friend of mine, along with my mom and Gary. We went to the vigil downtown that was held for the Tree of Life Synagogue. It was a beautiful and powerful event. We acknowledged our grief and our dismay, but we also pledged our resolve that love will win in the end. Community-building will win in the end. No matter who our faith or creed, race or political affiliation, we will continue to stand together, side by side.
This is what I saw at the vigil. I wore my clerics so I could be easily identified as a Christian pastor. I received a number of personal thank you’s from Jewish people in the crowd, who appreciated me being there.
But the most powerful thing that happened was spontaneous and not planned. Rabbi Goldstein asked the leaders of faith communities to come forward and stand on the stage to help him deliver the final blessing. I think he expected a handful of clergy to join him. But what happened instead was a slow tidal wave of spiritual leaders who came forward and filled the stage.
It was clear that when this happened, i was a powerful and moving moment. Those who were already on the stage voiced how surprised and encouraged they were by such a strong show of support from those of other faith traditions. Even though it was a small gesture, I believe it helped in the healing. There were also approximately 500 people who attended the vigil, which is pretty remarkable considering how quickly it was put together.
If I have ever witnessed a vision of what the Kingdom of God looks like, it looks a lot like this prayer vigil. This is the world I choose to live in even if we are surrounded by violence and hatred on all sides.
Today is All Saints Sunday. If you’re wondering what my story has to do with our remembrance of the departed saints, let me show you where I connect the dots. Our first lesson is Isaiah’s magnificent vision of the kingdom feast, the heavenly banquet. It’s a sight for the senses with rich foods and well-ages wines. It’s a gathering of those who have lived under the shroud that was cast over all peoples. But, now the sense of doom and gloom has been obliterated. Death is no more. Crying and grieving are no more. All the divisions we used to think were oh-so-important, have been banished from the table.
Not surprisingly, this text has been read at a number of memorial services I’ve presided over. It is a hope-filled vision of what the reign of God looks like. Although it is presented as something that will take place in the future, I choose to live my life as if it’s happening now.
This same hope-filled vision is seen in our Second Lesson from Revelation, where God promises to “make all things new.” Creation has been restored from the abuses it has endured at our hands. Death is no more. Mourning and crying and pain are no more. Those who are feeling parched and dry up from the challenges of life, are promised a cool, refreshing drink from the spring of the water of life.
Who among us does not want that? This, too, is a hope-filled vision of what the reign of God looks like. Although it is presented as something that will take place in the future, I choose to live my life as if it’s happening now.
The reason why I choose to live this way is that the Kingdom of God is already here among us now. It is within us if we choose to reveal it, if we choose to let our light shine in the darkness of our world.
On this All Saint’s Sunday I draw strength from the great cloud of witnesses, who also believed in this kingdom. I draw strength from Harold and Ray, and from all these beautiful people whose faces grace our Table of Remembrance today.
On days when I feel like I want to give up and throw in the towel, I pause to think about these saints, and it fills my heart with love and peace. I hear them saying to me, “C’mon, David. You can do this! If you need to rest a bit, that’s okay. But the world needs all the love you have to give. The world needs all the hope you have to give. So, give as you are able. Love fiercely, serve compassionately, and care deeply. This is your time. Don’t squander it. Be the light of the world, the city on a hill, and the salt of the earth God has called you to be. You. Can. Do. It.”
So, Friends in Christ, this All Saints’ Sunday, we have a choice. We can let the darkness of the world we live in get the best of us. We can let grief, fear, and anger overwhelm us. OR we can refuse to let the darkness win. We can continue to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. We can reach out to the hurting and the grieving and stand in solidarity with them. We can refuse to let the divisiveness we experience in our nation get the best of us.
If you don’t feel like you have the strength to do this holy work, take a moment to breathe deeply and to listen. Listen to the voices of the great cloud of witnesses who surround us each and every day. Feel their love and encouragement. Draw upon their wisdom. And live fearlessly and unapologetically as citizens of the kingdom of God. You. Can. Do. It. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck