Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 1, 2015
The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24, Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
All Souls Requiem

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the midst of this Facebook world where last night’s Halloween photos have long been supplanted by some new things this morning, in a world where yesterday is gone as quickly as tomorrow will come, we ought to ask ourselves why we are doing any of this.  Why have we gathered with all the finery of this evening’s service to remember dead – not only the those who died yesterday, or even this past month or year, but all those over the course of our lives who have died – some fifty, sixty, or even seventy years ago?  Here we are, remembering people knew and loved, but even more, people we did not know.  Here we are, even, praying for individuals whose families are not here with us.  Why do we bother do this?

It’s an important question and gets to some very important aspects of our faith.

To begin, we remember the dead because we honor life.  In this place, and throughout our tradition, we have proclaimed over and over again that this life matters – this life of laughter and joy, of sadness and failure, this life of kindness and service and love – it all matters.  A dear friend of mine was fond of saying that God did not create us to just throw us away![1]  And he was right!  If this life matters, if we proclaim that the life that God gives to us, and the great joys that God bestows upon us through the affection and life of our loved ones and friends, if all this life matters, than we can do nothing less than to gather to remember each and every one of these gifts, each and every one of these lives.  We gather and we remember, in part because each life matters.

So important, in fact, is life that we commit to remembering even the lives of people unknown to us – today, in the reading of the necrology you will hear more names that any one person knows, you will be invited to pray not only for your loved ones, but for complete strangers – Luka Nakoa, Kawika Fairbanks, Anne Ludewig, Susie Mossman, these are individuals we will prayer for that I alone know – and there are others that you, alone, know – and yet, we will prayer for each as if they were known and dear to us, and in the midst of our prayer, we will make a great proclamation – their lives matter!  Not simply because they were known and dear to us, but because they were known to God, and all life that God creates matters.

We gather also to remember.  Bring to mind a loved one who has died and memories are sure to follow – we remember simple times spent together, we recall all those things that made someone unique, we recall, too, those most intimate memories of love shared and exchanged.  And that’s critical – its critical that we remember the love our loved ones had for us!  Because we ought to remember that we are each lovable!  Would that the world were overflowing with expressions of love, however, that is seldom true enough and so it is a lasting gift of our loved one that we might see ourselves again as they saw us – worthy of their love, just as they were worthy of ours. 

It’s important, however, to remember more than just the good stuff – at the very least, that would be incomplete.  Try as we all might, you can rest assured that everyone’s life is filled with some degree of brokenness and pain – pain received and, sadly, pain inflicted.  Even the dearest parent will leave a child with memories of sadness and failure, and the most trusted, love-filled marriage will experience episodes of distrust and dishonor.  It is the nature of our human life that we will both receive from and cause pain in others whom we love.  And, while I don’t suggest that we ought to mire ourselves in the memories of such sadness, it is important to remember our loved ones really – that is, both in their gifts and imperfections, to remember them wholly for who they were.

Otherwise, the critical promise proclaimed by God today and at our death cannot be heard – we are redeemed, not only in our righteousness, but also in our sinfulness.  The totality of our life, the totality of our loved one’s lives, is overshadowed in death by the embrace of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Only if we remember our sin and brokenness, only if we remember also the brokenness of our loved ones lives, will we hear the good news, the great news in fact, of God’s love that overcomes sin and death. 

Only when we face into the reality of human life – all the love and joy, yes, but also the sin and brokenness as well – can we hear Saint Paul’s great proclamation: 

‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 
‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.