November 3, 2019
All Saints’ Day
This is the Feast Day of All Saints — It is one of the great feasts of the church year and in our tradition, one of those moveable feasts. The official day is November 1 and as I said in Grace Notes, my brother’s birthday. It is important to note that even difficult siblings get to be saints in this Christian feast day — it is a day to remember all the saints and during our Prayers of the People, you will be invited to say silently or aloud, the names of all the saints in your life. These very walls resonate with the saints of days gone by.
Last Thursday, we had the first gathering of Woman of Grace and Beyond — we began with names, sharing the stories of our names and how names shape our identity. We looked at images of doors and thresholds, imagining those as an entry into our lives — considering the body and the soul, first and second stories of our sacred dwelling. The images from Theresa of Avila and Evelyn Underhill —dwelling places connected to each other — communities of grace, offered a glimpse of yesterdays’ celebration of Jean’s life.
This is the church in action — an outpost and signpost of love, a place where all the saints can gather. Those of us who are committed to maintain this center point of grace demonstrated what I have called “radical hospitality.” Old Lopez gathered here to celebrate Jean’s life and to honor Dick and his amazing family.
Everyone on Lopez is not going to join this congregation but everyone on Lopez Island is welcomed — lavished with the love that comes from a commitment to be sacramental signs of God’s love in the world. You are living signs — like the image of the chalice I offered last week — we are filled with grace and overflowing. And we do not believe that we are set apart because we are extraordinary or privileged. We are set apart because we acknowledge that we are simply ordinary human beings who believe God loves us anyway — with all our limitations and shortcomings. That is the beloved community!
Many years ago, I heard this young man tell his story on NPR. He was recounting events from twenty years ago. Events which changed his life forever. His name was Kevin and, like many young men, he was seeking the meaning of life. His search took him as far as the Holy Lands. As he wandered, he took pictures of rituals, marriages, burials, rites of passage. He was searching for God — and God found him.
It was a busy time in Jerusalem, the week of Passover and Easter. One night, Kevin missed curfew at the youth hostel and was locked out. That very night was Easter Eve, and he found himself drawn to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which stands over the protruding rock where the cross was erected. Rock-hewn tombs were interspersed in that ancient setting. It was a place tied to death: the place of the cross and the tomb.
Tired, Keven lay down on a smooth stone and slept. He was awakened early by pilgrims coming to celebrate the risen Christ. As he arose and looked around, he was overwhelmed with the power of the empty tomb and he knew, once and for all, that Christ had risen from the dead.
He returned to his hostel, went to bed and while asleep experienced a most remarkable dream. In the dream he was told that he had six months left to live. Although he could not explain why, he knew upon awaking that the dream was real, and so began his journey to death.
“What do you do when you know that you have six months to live?” That is the question Kevin asked himself. He was surprised at his response: he wanted to return home, to spend time with his parents, living an ordinary life, doing ordinary things.
And that is what he did. As the six months passed, he visited his brothers and sisters, his friends, leaving nothing unsaid. He took what money he had saved and sent anonymous gifts to friends and worthy causes. He prepared to die.
Finally, the last day came. It was late Fall. Kevin went to bed early, knowing that this was the end of his life. He reviewed the events of those remarkable months — satisfied that he was finished, that he had shared fully with those he loved.
The next morning, to his surprise, he awakened! His voice cracked as he told the story. “I awakened, and I knew that I had been reborn, reborn into ordinariness. And I knew that was enough — that I could want for nothing more.” What an experience of grace! Kevin learned the secret of the empty tomb: all life is a gift, to be received as a miracle and to be lived with the urgency of impending death and the joy of resurrection.
How would you spend your last six months? For what would you be thankful? These are the questions before us as we prepare for this life of abundant grace. The spiritual life, which is the only life for which we were created, begins when we discover the secret of the empty tomb. Take stock, give thanks for the ordinary and get ready to live.
As we remember all the saints who have gone before us, remember that you, too, are a beloved saint of God!