This past Sunday was All Saints Day, the day in the liturgical church calendar we remember and honor those who have died in the Lord. This has always been a really meaningful service for me, but this year I walked into our little Anglican church in Nashville with some trepidation. Our pastor, Thomas, had sent an e-mail out to everyone in the congregation asking us to tell our stories of loved ones no longer with us whose lives impacted ours in a profound way. Teachers who changed our minds and hearts, parents, grandparents or siblings that loved us well, friends who pointed us to God. He was devoting the entire sermon to these testimonies and wanted us to honor those lives publicly.
Death is no stranger to my family. I lost my father five years ago to a rare disease when he was only 56. I’m still feeling the ripple effects of how that has changed my views on God, life, death, parenting, expectations for my time on this earth, everything. To be honest, it is harder in some ways today than it was initially. Now that I have three children of my own I think of his suffering and death with a heaviness that I could not understand in my twenties. I don’t know what he was thinking or feeling in those last days before he died, but as I imagine leaving my own children I have a little more understanding of the weight he must have carried leaving us behind. I now feel free to be very, very sad about it sometimes. Not just for my dad but that suffering and death exist at all. During lent when my pastor puts the ashes on my head and says, “From dust you are and to dust you shall return” I’m always a bit jolted. Our youth-obsessed society is not comfortable talking about these things and most of the time, neither am I.
But something amazing happened that Sunday morning with those two-hundred or so people crammed into our sanctuary. Our collective sorrow, shared with each other, turned into the most beautiful and cathartic peace. Jesus’ peace that passes all understanding. I heard elderly widows honor their husbands and end by talking about Jesus’ blessed assurance. I heard men honor their grandmothers and fathers and former professors and friends. I heard a young woman honor the husband and father she and her daughters had lost only a year before with such dignity and grace that I knew again Jesus was real.
And then I got up there and bawled like a baby from my first sentence to my last. I was a mess. No poise, no grace, just a really terrible and awkward cry-face. And somehow in that safe place I was completely okay with that. I talked about my dad and where he came from, what he loved and how he pointed me to Jesus. How he left me with a legacy that would outlive him and all of us in this life, a heavenly Father whose kingdom has no end.
By the time the service was over and we sang our last hymn there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. To be able to laugh, cry and embrace all of life from birth to death with my church family is a precious gift. To know that mine is one of countless stories and that I am not alone gives me strength and comfort. All that is required is for me to show up and occasionally make a fool of myself to be known as I really am.
If you want to continue this exercise of honoring those who have gone before us, share your story here. As Thomas said that Sunday, we see a small part of the communion table now but one day we will sit at it in its entirety with all the saints: past, present and future.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.