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There were several great events last week: An election that shifted the balance of power in the Congress, and the World Series where the San Francisco Giants – the team of my tender youth – won for the first time in 56 years.
There was another great event last week, on Tuesday, and millions of people around the globe gathered, and millions were touched to the core of their being in ways that are hard to describe.
They came from cities and small villages. They were young and old and in between. Some were rich, some poor.
They came together in many places to do one thing: to remember their loved ones on the day we call the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” or All Souls Day.
In Poland, they brought candles to the cemeteries that lit up the sky (photo above).
In Mexico, where they call it El Dia de los Muertos, the people bring mementos representing loved ones to decorate tables, or las ofrendas, in the churches.
And last Tuesday, people gathered here at St. Paul’s to pray and sing a few hymns. All over the world they said prayers, lit candles, and read the names of the departed.
All of these people, each in their own way, each in their own language, in their own prayers, celebrated life and grace, and hope for a better world here and now. And this commemoration continues with us today as we gather for our All Saints Sunday.
Today we remember many, many people; the famous saints of old, prophets and sages and martyrs. And we remember the not-so-famous: the people who somehow touched our lives.
We are surrounded today by a great cloud of witnesses, just over the horizon from our view, reminding us on this All Saints Sunday that there is a way to live without the borders of fear and death.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,” proclaims Job of the Hebrew Scriptures, “and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and . . . then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side."
These holy days of All Saints and All Souls are not really about death at all, but about proclaiming God’s healing love that lasts forever.
Still, I don’t know why there is so much tragedy and pain in this world. I don’t know why some people get well, and others don’t.
We must acknowledge that is a fact. Bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own.
But maybe there is more to this.
After all, healing in this world is only temporary. The people Jesus heals – the lepers, the demoniacs, the woman who can’t stop bleeding – all of them depart this earth, one-by-one. Even Lazarus, raised from the dead, dies.
Deeper healing comes in the other world, on another time scale that my mortal brain cannot fathom.
I believe that everyone is ultimately healed of all that harms them, all that wounds them, all that hurts them, all that drags them down.
This deeper healing lasts forever, and we get hints of it in this world.
Jesus says over and over he wants us to experience healing in this world as evidence of God’s abundant love, as evidence of God’s kingdom bursting into the open for all to see.
Your presence today is evidence of God’s kingdom coming into being right here, right now.
Today, with our words and actions, we are showing our connection to the reality of God’s loving, healing kingdom bursting into the open. We will show it in many ways today.
In a few minutes, we are going to baptize Campbell, an infant we are welcoming into St. Paul’s and into the larger Body of Christ forever.
By baptizing Campbell we proclaim that every member of God’s kingdom is valuable and belongs – even the little children – especially the little children.
With her parents and Godparents, we will renew our own baptismal covenant, renewing our promises to follow Christ by loving our neighbors, respecting the dignity of every human being and working for justice and peace.
We will pledge to walk with Campbell, support her and uphold her as she grows.
Next, we will make tangible the words of our baptismal pledge. We will bring to the Holy Table our offerings of clothes for the homeless, Duduza dolls for the children of Haiti, prayer shawls for the sick and hurting in our own community.
The dolls and prayer shawls were made by dedicated members of our parish (see photo at right with Jane Rotch and some of the dolls).
And we will, as we do every week, bless our monetary offerings for this parish.
We will also bless our financial pledges for the coming year. No pledge, no gift is too small. All are building blocks of God’s kingdom.
Our generosity springs from our baptismal promises, and represents the offering of the best of ourselves – it is why we call this our “offering” and not a “collection.”
And then we will come together to celebrate Holy Communion. We will gather not just with each other, but with those we love who are just beyond our horizon. They join us at this Table, sharing in this bread and wine at our Eucharist, a Greek word that means Thanksgiving. This is our offering of thanks and love for them.
To represent those dear to us who are departed but still near, the clergy will read aloud the names of the 26 people who we held funerals for in the last 12 months in this parish. Feel free to add other names silently or aloud.
Then we will break bread together, and remember again the night of the Last Supper, and how Jesus told us he is present always, holding us up, healing us, and walking with us into our darkest night.
During our time of Communion, we will offer healing prayers in the Chapel, following a very ancient practice of the early church.
Those who ask for such prayers will be blessed on their forehead with Holy Oil – oil that was blessed by our bishop earlier this year during Holy Week.
And then our worship here today will end, and as Jesus beckons us, we will go back into the world, to live out our promises and prayers for peace and healing everywhere we go – and as God gives us the strength – treat each other and everyone we meet with respect, dignity and generosity, especially when it is hardest.
“I say to you that listen,” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. . . Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Yes, that is a high standard, the standard of grace, the standard of our faith, and the standard of the saints. And yes, you and I can be one too, one day at a time. AMEN.