Sunday, November 4, 2012

Resurrection, Carly Rae Jepsen, & Memories of Granny

All Saints’ Day does not always start with the tomb. This year we receive the account from John’s gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but other years we hear “blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful” from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel. Still other years we receive the less spiritual version from Luke: “blessed are the poor, period.” In fact, in the history of the Episcopal Prayer Book tradition, dating back to the first English prayer book in 1549 (463 years ago, for those scoring at home), this is only the third Sunday for which John 11 has been appointed to this feast - all in the last six years and owing to the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary in 2006. I don’t say this to diminish the appointment of the reading - far less to diminish the RCL, which has Christians across denominations reading Scripture together (always a good thing) - but I want you to appreciate the historical uniqueness of this moment. It is a good thing, I think, but/and the Church is not used to doing this. All Saints’ Day does not always start with the tomb. But because this All Saints’ Day starts with the tomb, I will, too.

When I was little, my Granny took my younger brothers and me on frequent trips to the cemetery. Both of Granny’s parents, my great-grandparents, were dead, and Granny’s husband, my Grandpa Jack, had also died two years before I was born. It is obvious, but still painful, for me to say I never met him. Granny would dress us up, comb our hair, and take arrangements of flowers, sometimes real but mostly artificial, sometimes with flags, and we’d pile into the car; once arrived, she would clean up the plots, usually with some remark about the poor condition of the grounds, and my brothers and I would place the arrangements of flowers at each site, sit back on a bench with Granny for a few minutes in which she would talk aloud to God and Grandpa. We’d walk the grounds a little while, and then we’d all go home.

I remember these visits as some of my earliest introductions to mortality. Grandpa Jack had been buried with his military dog-tags between his teeth, Granny said, which sounded unimaginably horrible to me at the time. And then there was the cognitive disconnect that occurred when I saw my Granny’s name already engraved on their shared tombstone, with an open date on the right-hand side. This was a lot for a five to seven year old to make sense of.

We made these trips with Granny on special occasions: Memorial Day, Labor Day, other times. I think Granny felt a sense of obligation in keeping these dates, and also that she felt she carried the obligation alone. She would sometimes rag on my dad about his not caring to go out to the cemetery with the regularity she would have liked. Remembering family history is very important to my dad - it is a value he has passed on to me - but the grave sites themselves were not as relationally engaging for him as they were for Granny.

One day Dad told me plainly: Your granny goes to the cemetery to meet your grandpa. I don’t know that he’s there; I do know he is present in our worship at the Eucharist. That’s where I meet my dad.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

asked the men that first Easter morning at the tomb. I think this is my father’s question, too. It’s the question that knows that not all emptiness is empty. There is, for example, the great emptiness of that first Easter morning - the empty tomb - likewise the vacuum left in earth and rock when Lazarus was unbound, set free, the promise that we, too, will be raised; that we, in our bodies, shall see God.

Your granny goes to the cemetery to meet your grandpa, said my dad. I don’t know he’s there; I do know he is present in our worship at the Eucharist...

For empty tomb, resurrection people: the Eucharist, as place of reconnection, place of resurrection, place of eternal life; the Eucharist, whereat we are joined as often as we gather by “Angels and Archangels and...all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn: holy, holy holy...”

"Geddes MacGregor in The Rhythm of God tells of a priest who, when asked, 'How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?' replied, 'There were three old ladies, the janitor, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.' (1)

All the company of heaven...In truth, it is not the heavenly hosts who join us at the Eucharist, but we who join them, for they are always singing this song. So they welcome us here, and we foretaste heaven: the feast of God in which the Lord dries every tear and death is swallowed up. Eucharist as the place where heaven and earth kiss and the prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” finds some grit and grip, anticipating the vision and promise of Revelation: the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God; and in this place of holy meeting we sing the song of new and unending life, praise of the risen Lamb: holy, holy, holy.

And this is the tune the whole created order was made to sing. And heavenly hosts don’t stop their singing, because Communion does not simply name the surprising news that we are not alone, but also the truly Good News that, where Jesus is, resurrection is. We are in the presence of Jesus and so here is resurrection, here is new creation. Only the risen Christ makes it possible for saints to sing, and the song we sing is the victory of God.

On All Saints’ Day, it is fair to ask just what a saint is. Lots of speculation about what makes one a holy one, but I think the simplest sign is this: they sing the song. They sing the song of the Holy One whose joy it is to share the banquet of the Lamb. Saints are all of us who sing the victory of God.

Like any good song, it’s meant to get stuck in your head. We learn it here, in part, so that we might hum it out there, in the world. Like an eternal “Call Me Maybe" (only so much better). We learn the song here so that the tune will suggest itself there, almost like instinct, when we’re not really trying; there, when we we think we might break for the weight of it all; there, when we wonder what it all means; there, when we don’t see the way and feel like giving up; and there, too, when things are good and we imagine that we might not need God or that we could do the job as well of he; there, when the mystery and beauty of it all finally silences our attempts to control the mystery with our words and we fall down in wonder, love, and praise: holy, holy, holy. We learn this song here.

With our ears trained for this song, when we hear an echo of it out there, a harmony, or subtle variation, we remember, we recognize, that we were made to fill the skies with the singing of the song that first moved the sun and the stars and loves us in its being. Saints sing this song with their lives and because death cannot stop the song, neither does death mark the end of God’s holy ones.

It’s a wonderful song. The invitation is to sing it with your life. Dare to sing it not just in showers or automobiles or churches but in your daily life, too, your living and dying, your vocation, let it be your direction. Learn to sing this song out loud with your life and with friends: holy, holy, holy.

Where Jesus is, resurrection is. To sing the song of Jesus is the marvelous work of saints. Sing.


SFH. 11.4.12

(1) God in the Moment: Making Every Day a Prayer, Kathy Coffey

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