These candles represent people, who God gifted generously with friends, family, and church. All of them were unique. All of them were beautifully made in God’s image. All of them touched many lives. Many of them changed my life through their witness of Christ. We read their names with solemnity, dignity and joy for the memories we have.
When I called Al and asked him to help out in the church I could count on two things, he would say yes and he would do a fantastic job. Custom shelves in the parsonage, our banner sign out front, a rolling stand for the huge TV in Fritz Hall, more hanger carts than you can count at Joseph’s Coat. Al was someone who worked hard and did good work. We will light a candle for Al today, a saint who has gone before us.
One of the first people to welcome me to this church was Charlotte. She had me to her house over eleven years ago and told me stories about the south end, her husband, kids, grandkids and Messiah, the church she had been not just a part but a leader almost since our start in the late fifties. Charlotte loved richly. Charlotte loved us richly. We will light a candle for Charlotte today, a saint who has gone before us.
I never met Hideko. The Cliftons left before I came, but in our early history they were active here. Now, Bob, Hideko’s husband, who cared for Hideko with deep love, has rejoined us. I know of the goodness of Hideko by the depth of the love Bob has for her. We will light a candle for Hideko today, a saint who has gone before us.
I sat several times in Rowena’s living room and listened. Rowena had ideas about everything and shared them freely with a smile. She was surely s joy. In the Pastor’s Class one Wednesday, we were talking about the Israelites being aliens and dependant of the good will of others. This has made both Jews and Christians traditional advocates for immigrants in the countries they reside. She thought about it a minute and said, I worry about all the foreigners that come here. I never thought my faith told me I should welcome them. I will have to think about that. Thinking about that is all any pastor can ask. We will light a candle for Rowena today, a saint who has gone before us.
I met Jack just a few times at the golf course that he worked, but I know and love his family. Mark McCarty was his son. They told me Mark gets his good nature and smile from his dad. The funeral home was filled for his memorial because Jack was a guy that made friends and people liked. We will light a candle for Jack today, a saint who has gone before us.
Barbara was a medical miracle in my mind. She lived with Juvenile Diabetes all of her life, way before the effective and precise treatments we have today. When I visited in her home, there was a large photo album that we would look through and I would hear the stories of her life. We will light a candle for Barb today, a saint who has gone before us.
Denise and I had lunch together several times over the years she fought breast cancer. Denise inspired me. She died with more dignity and courage than anyone I have ever met. She left behind two wonderful boys and a broken hearted husband. We will light a candle for Denise today, a saint who has gone before us.
Dan was a hard guy not to like. He had an infectious smile. When he got out of the hospital the last time, he said I hear God loud and clear Pastor. I am going to get better. He died a few months after that, leaving behind three great kids and Marcy his wife and caregiver. We will light a candle for Dan today, a saint who has gone before us.
Carol was an artist. In her home, she showed me a sunroom where she painted beautiful watercolors. God gifted her greatly. She saw the world in color. We will light a candle for Carol today, a saint who has gone before us.
These candles represent people, who God gifted generously with friends, family and church. All of them leave behind huge holes of life they filled for many others. All of them leave behind people who are grieving. On All Saints Sunday, we not only light a candle to remember these good people, we say a prayer for ourselves, too. Our prayer is that in our grief, we remember the promise, that death is not the last word.
Grief is hard. But then, who in this room doesn’t know that? All of us are likely grieving something. Job, moving, broken relationships, financial failure, caring for someone who is ill and the sacrifice that entails, new physical disabilities, the loss of a pet, the leaving of a beloved pastor. The pain of our grief is directly in relation to the magnitude of our loss, and here is the thing, no one can determine that magnitude, except us. This is what makes grief so lonely. It is uniquely experienced just by us.
Revelation speaks a promise in the midst of our grief, whether that grief is for someone who has died or a change that in our life that is hard to accept. Revelation was written for a church that knew a couple of things about grief. The Revelation church was undergoing severe persecution for being believers in Jesus. They lost their family for believing. They lost their livelihood for believing. Many, likely lost their lives for believing.
For them and us, Revelation bears a promise. In the midst of our pain, God surrounds us with both the saints that have gone before and the saints of today. All of these saints are represented in the scripture by the people in white robes. They are believers, people of the church, the baptized who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb to make them white. While the saints who have passed will surely hunger no more, thirst no more and cry no more. Their work is not done. With the saints of today, the Church, they will minister to us, sill on our journey, as suffer loss, as we cry. This is the promise that we rely upon in our grief.
We can’t trust that promise by closing our eyes and wishing it to be true. As Christ’s body, the church we help each other trust the promise, that Christ’s love is bigger than death. This is the work of our fellowship together. We don’t serve coffee or donuts on Sunday mornings to compete with Jolly Pirate or dinner on Wednesday night to put a dent in the profits at McDonalds. We gather around food so that we get to know each other, listen to each other, hear about joy and successes, hear the grief that is wearing us down. Our fellowship helps us be better ministers of Christ. We help each other trust the promise.
Illness forced one of our members to move three years ago to an independant living facility. Some of you know the difficulty of moving so much life into what can be a small space. This person grieved this move, as we all would. Men and women rallied to help her pack, move and transition to this new place. Then, she was to move again, three years later. And again, men and women from this church, came and helped her pack, and transfer her modest belongings. Men and women of Christ reassured her by their actions that God is present, knows her loss, grieves with her, and longs for all tears to be dried.
Let the promise of life heal our grief by each of us here making the words of promise reality by our care and our action for one another. Al, Charlotte, Hideko, Rowena, Jack, Barbara, Denise, Daniel and Carol join all of the saints encouraging us from a place of life. We join those saints to lift each other up and bear one another’s burdens. Amen