For All the Saints

I love All Saints Day. It is, hands down, one of my favorite festivals in our liturgical calendar, right up there with Christmas and Easter. This year was no different: from the return of our brilliant white and gold worship paraments after their long hiatus, to the beautiful sounds of Masterworks musicians as they enriched our worship with pieces by W.A Mozart, Andrew Miller, Morten Lauridsen, and Gerald Finzi, it was a great day to be in church.

We come together on All Saints Day to remember those who have gone before us in faith: the great and well-known heroes of church and society, yes; but also, and just as importantly, those family members and friends who have gone before us in faith, touched our lives, and left an indelible imprint on our very being.

I am always presented with opportunities to remember my grandparents: I can’t smell a pot roast without thinking about Grandma and I can’t see a John Deere tractor without thinking about days spent mowing grass with Grandpa. They are such an important part of who I am and who I aspire to be that I don’t need a festival or an occasion to remember them. I just do.

All Saints Day is different. On All Saints Day, we remember our loved ones in a special and unique way. We remember that, even though they have died and are no longer with us, they have not left us completely and they have not left us forever. This is particularly poignant in the imagery of the hymns typically sung on All Saints Day, which paint a wonderful image of Christian believers from all of time and history (the saints who have died in faith) united with the church on earth (us, the saints gathered in worship in 2019) together singing the praises of the God who is always all about bringing new life out of death.

The images from the book of Revelation paint spectacular pictures of this unity across time and space:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:3-6)

I think this is a big part of why I love All Saints Day so much. It serves as a real reminder in our increasingly individualized society that ultimately we are all in this together. We are together as the gathered saints of God at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. We are together with all of our various Mission Partners. We are together with ELCA congregations across the country and in the Lutheran World Federation abroad. We are together with the other 2.7 billion Christian saints throughout the world. And yes, we are together with all of the faithful who have died and entered eternal rest.

So, who do you remember this week? Who is it that you wish you could see and touch just one more time? On this week after All Saints Day, take heart! In Christ, our loved ones continue to be with us today as fellow members of the Body of Christ, singing their praises with the heavenly host. And in Christ, we will be reunited with all the Saints on the last day because death does not have the final say.

For all the saints past, present, and future, thanks be to God.

Peace +

Garth Englund, Pastoral Intern

Grief’s Journey

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go. – Mary Oliver

 

I laid my “little” brother to rest this week. The truth is, Daniel grew to be physically bigger than me pretty fast. The truth is, in many ways the legacy Daniel leaves, I suspect, also outsizes me in so many ways. I say this not out of jealousy, but respect.

Having stood at the graves of our youngest brother, mother, and father together, I noted the solitariness of standing at his. Not that I was not surrounded by lots of loving people, especially my wife and son. Yet, there was a notable void. The grieving begins. I know it is a journey I can walk with others, but must do, in some way, alone.

The journey of grief has many dimensions and waypoints. It is filled with emotions, memories, tears, and even a little anger at times. I know this, because I have watched you all grieve your losses. I also know that grief is a journey that has a destination. God’s call will be to keep walking until mourning turns to dancing; until tears are, most often, replaced with laughter. I am on my way to letting go, as Mary Oliver puts it.

To avoid getting stuck at some rest stop of sadness along the way requires hope. Hope is a grace I cannot manufacture or purchase. It is a gift. Paul says,  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Hope given through Christ and his death and resurrection is the only way to make the journey.

It is the odd lot of a preacher to have to preach at a loved one’s funeral. There is always a sense in which the preacher is preaching to him/herself, but it is particularly true in this sense. One of the things I said to myself as many listened was that I am not satisfied with the insipid means of dealing with death to which many cling.

I am not satisfied to hear that “it was all God’s plan. God called your brother home.” I don’t believe in that kind of puppeteer god. Death came to my brother because of disease and a world where death is unavoidable. God weeps at my brother’s death.

I am not satisfied with the notion that my brother’s “immortal soul” is now loose in some kind of ethereal existence, united with other souls all living as they did, except they cannot eat, drink, embrace or enjoy God’s creation. As Jurgen Moltmann said, “Immortality of the soul is an opinion. Resurrection of the dead is history.”

I am not satisfied to hear that I will see my brother again just as he was in a place I can’t find. I want to see my brother as God made him to be, body renewed, spirit strong and freed of whatever demons possessed him (and we all have them). I want to see his joy at being relieved of every regret and forgiven every misdeed.

My hope is built on resurrection – a physical, getting up from the ashes, embraceable body that is redeemed and renewed along with all the groaning earth and every human we have loved and hated. My hope is that I will not just be united by memory or spirit, but that we will once again eat a perfectly medium rare steak and hug each other with a brotherly embrace that tries to out squeeze the other.

With this hope, I expect I will journey through the tears to laughter; that I will take my time to mourn and share a time to laugh; that I will let it go and let God do what God does.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

 

copyright © 2019 Timothy V. Olson