18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Today is All Saints Sunday, the day in which we remember those we have loved and lost, especially over the course of the last year, and it is a funny day, isn’t it? Because the way that we tend to process grief is that we go through it, and then we do everything we can to move past it and never think of it again, for grief is so powerful and can be so miserable. We act as if we can grieve and then truly move on, when, of course, it is the case that to live is to grieve. You never move past grief. You just learn to live with it, you get used to it until it is, if not a welcome houseguest, then at least a relative who lives in the basement who doesn’t give you too much trouble.
But even that kind of arrangement is too much for us, so we pretend like the grief process is that you grieve and then you move on, and I suppose that’s all well and good until the church has the nerve to bring it all back one Sunday a year, has the nerve to call the names of those we have lost, has the nerve to bring it all back, all over again, the feeling of loss, of disbelief, of having no idea how to continue breathing, let alone how to keep walking, with such loss.
I don’t know who you are remembering today, but I am remembering my grandfather, who died ten years ago, but who I still think about most days. I showed you last week the quilt that my grandmother made me out of his old work shirts, colorful and striped, and that was pretty much how he lived his life, a colorful storyteller who began his life dirt poor. He lived hard, but he loved his family and ended his life with so many people who loved him, we could barely fit everybody in the pews for the service. He’s been gone a long time now, but that grief doesn’t go away. It just becomes less blinding.
Moving through grief is hard, and so in some ways, it seems unfair for the church to bring up the fact that we’ve lost so many saints over the last years, and that we’re going to continue to lose them until it is each of us who is being mourned, and we see with our own beings that though death is the worst thing, the great promise of the Resurrection is that it is not the last thing, for as the apostle Paul says, now we see through a glass, darkly, but soon we will see face to face. Now, I know only in part; then, I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
This is the promise of God, that, as the theologian Frederick Buechner says, what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.
And it’s a nice reminder, especially on days like today. But in some ways, I’ll be honest, it can seem little comfort to those of us left to pick up the pieces, left to call the lawyers and the bank, to continue doing the business of being the church by fulfilling that great commission, those final words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
The great cloud of witnesses is a nice concept, but it doesn’t always seem to do me a lot of good here on earth, here in the church, having lost so many and so much. You can get covered up by that kind of grief, just go unseen for days.
And yet. And yet, even in the midst of being reminded of that grief, even in the midst of discerning next steps for the church and for our own lives, Jesus reminds us that though it may seem so for a season, we are never alone. We are not expected to do the work of ministry alone. For the Gospel of Matthew does not simply end with this great commission, but, finally, with this vitally important reminder, which in many ways, is the Gospel in miniature, for as Jesus’s very last words, they are an incredible gift:
Yes, baptize others in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you, but also remember! Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Remember! Even in midst of what can seem like the absence of Christ here on earth, remember! For remembering is the most powerful weapon there is against debilitating grief. Not forgetting, but remembering, remembering that God is with us always, even to the end of the age.
This is what we do, every Sunday, as a church. We come together to remember—not just as an intellectual exercise, but as an embodied hope. Remembering is not just about calling to mind. It is about allowing memory to float beyond boundaries of time and place into the present moment, and so when we light the candle and ring the bell later in the service, we are not simply going through the motions of reading a list. We are not simply recalling, but rather re-calling, calling those memories and those saints forward into the present, as we celebrate those who have passed, but who are not gone, for they undergird us still, they fill this place with their spirit, and they call us forward when all we want to do is go back.
Remember! Remember, they say. Remember all that God has done for you. Remember your baptism and be thankful. Remember who you are. And, though it is difficult, remember that you came from dust, and to dust you shall return.
But most of all, most of all, remember that I am with you, to the end of the age.
It can be a revolutionary thing, to remember, especially in a world that puts so much emphasis on doing new at the expense of anything old, and yet, here we are, two thousand years after Jesus walked the earth, talking about these important things, bringing them forward into the present. Remember! Remember those who have gone before! Remember what Jesus has done for you! Remember that when you take Communion, when you partake of the body of Christ, you are nourished to go and BE the body, to be the church, because without you, the body is not as strong, the church is not as strong. And without the church, well, how easy it is for the world to forget to remember.
How easy it is to forget, and in fact, it’s a common thing these days to hear people who consider themselves awfully modern say things like, “Oh, who needs the church? Who needs that kind of outdated, out-of-synch, backward-looking, bureaucratic institution?” And there’s some legitimate criticism there, because when we only look back, rather than glancing over our shoulder occasionally, we run the risk of running head-on into the median.
But you know why I think we need the church? Do you know why I can hold my chin up even when I hear so many people say, oh who needs the church? It is the business of remembering that keeps me here, for remembering is not backward-looking at all if it is truly remembering, truly calling forward all those saints to undergird the work that we are doing now, the work that God is calling us to now, the business of being the church, not just now, but the business of bringing the church into God’s future.
I’m almost done, but let me remind you that in just a moment, those of us who have brought pledge cards with us will bring them up to the altar. If you would prefer, the ushers will be walking up and down the aisle to collect cards and can bring them forward for you.
And I want you to know that before we decided to have All Saint’s Sunday be the day on which we asked you to turn in your pledge for next year, I had to get through a little bit of my own baggage, because you don’t want to ruin the spirit of the thing by talking about money. This is a day to celebrate those who have come before us, not a day that should be dirtied by talking about something as pedestrian and vulgar as money.
But it was you, it was members of the finance committee at this church who convinced me that this day is the right day for establishing the baseline for that which God will do in the future, for I had to be reminded that remembering the past is not about getting stuck there, but about standing on the shoulders of those children of God who have come before us. Remembering not about getting stuck in the past. It is about now, about who we are now, about what we are called to do and who we are called to be in God’s future.
So let’s remember God’s future. And let’s not be bound by the past, but spurred on by it, for it is among the greatest promises I know that even when we are called to do the seemingly impossible, when we are called to do great things like making disciples of ALL nations, we are supported by the God who, in his very last words to us, promises nothing less than to be with us always, even to the end of the age. And thanks be to God. Amen.
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