Sunday, November 05, 2017

All Saints Sunday - When We Mourn Relationships

Revelation 7:9-17;
1 John 3:1-3;
Matthew 4:1-12

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Of all the beatitudes - blessings - we hear today, it’s this one that seems particular for All Saints’ Sunday. This day in the liturgical calendar has a mix of histories. It includes All Saint’s Day on November 1st, when the church celebrated the saints and martyrs of the church who have died. It also includes All Soul’s Day on November 2nd, when the church would pray for the souls of all the departed. In the last number of years, it has become a merging of the two in our current All Saint’s Day, when we remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, by which we mean all baptized Christians. This morning, our readings direct us to honour All Saints’ Sunday by focusing on those who mourn.

This morning, the candles that we will light and the names that we will hear during our prayers point us to a particular church ritual that helps us to grieve for those who have died. Whether they died recently or a long time ago, the lighting of the candles and speaking their names is a sign that they are never truly gone, but live on in our memories of them. Even more, when we participate in Holy Communion on this Sunday, we hear reminders that when we gather around God’s table, we are gathering with the living and the dead: “With all the saints, with the choirs of angels and all the hosts of heaven, we praise [God’s] holy name.” And we ask God to “join our prayers with those of your servants of every time and every place.” We believe that in the sacred moment of Holy Communion, God transcends the limitations of time and space and brings us together with everyone who has ever, or will ever, participate in this feast, united in one single kairos moment, one single moment in holy time, so that around this table we are not separate from those have died.

But I’ve been wondering this week, what about those situations where it seems as if someone we love has died, but they actually haven’t? What about those people who we sometimes say are “dead to us,” but aren’t actually dead? Or those who might say about us that we’re “dead to them?” What about those situations where the person isn’t dead, but the relationship is? Because that’s a kind of death that we don’t really talk about in church. We don’t include the names of those with whom we’re estranged on our prayer list, or light candles for them.

But maybe we should. Because the loss of relationship with someone who’s still alive can be painful in ways that are similar to actually losing someone. In both cases, particularly if the end came suddenly, there’s a lack of closure, there are questions but no answers, hurt but no apologies, gestures of love but no one to receive them. When people leave our lives too suddenly, it grieves us, regardless of how it happened. We are familiar with the pain that happens when someone has died unexpectedly, and we didn’t get a chance to make amends, or to confess regrets, or to profess our love one last time. But there is also pain and grieving when the person is still alive but they’ve cut off contact, and again, those chances to say what needs to be said, or to bring closure to what is lingering, don’t happen. Even when we end the relationship, to protect ourselves or those we love, the lack of resolution haunts and pains us. And then there is the particular kind of grieving that happens when people leave our lives, slowly but surely, as they slip into physical illness or dementia––when they can no longer remember us, and they are no longer whom we remember. In all of these cases, and I am in sure in others that you have experienced, we experience the loss of these relationships as a kind of death. And we mourn. We mourn what was, we mourn what could have been.

The difference between mourning a person and a relationship, of course, is that when the person is still alive, we can always hope for reconciliation in our lifetime. There is always a chance for things to get better. Yet along with that hopes comes fear. A fear that maybe we will not reconcile in this life. A fear that they, or we, will actually die before that chance comes. This fear can be completely based in reality, and I don’t want to suggest that all we need to do is keep hoping. So how can we accept that we may never find closure or reconciliation in this life time? How can we accept that the relationships we long to renew might actually be truly dead?

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Our Scriptures for this morning are clear about two things. The first is simply that resolution may not come today, in this life. We may currently mourn, but the Bible speaks of comfort in the future tense. They “will be” comforted. God “will wipe” away every tear. Even the first letter from John is oriented towards the future. We will be like Christ, but we are not quite yet. So that’s the first thing, as difficult to accept as it may be. Resolution may not come in this life.

But the second thing is just as clear, and even just as simple. It will happen. Those who mourn will be comforted, God will wipe away ever tear, and Christ will guide us to the springs of the water of life. We will receive new life after death, and this includes new life for our relationships.

This is the compelling message of our faith. That God gives us new life. That death, though it always comes, is not the end. This is our Easter faith, what we celebrate every single Sunday of the church year, even when it’s not Easter. This is what we are saying when we profess, in the Apostle’s Creed, I believe in the resurrection of the body. We are saying that whatever it is that makes us who we are, and in the days the Apostles’ Creed was created, the focus was on the body, but today it includes our minds and our personalities, and our relationships. All of these things are resurrected––brought to new life after we die.

And this all happens in God, through Christ. Our new life occurs in God, whether that is new life for us personally, new life for those who have died, or new life to those relationships that feel dead. The one who is on the throne reunites us and shelters us. The Lord hears the cries of our poor souls and will comfort us with resurrection. Christ was raised from the dead and given new life, and that new life will be shared with all of us, the “life of the world to come,” in every arena in which we experience death and grief and mourning.

Today, as we light candles for those who have died, you are welcome also to light candles also for those relationships in your lives that you mourn, whether the person has actually died or not. When we have a moment of silence after listing the names of the dead in our prayers, you are also welcome to name in your hearts those people with whom you are estranged, those people who are dead to you or who consider you dead to them. Commend them, and your relationship with them, to God. Our God is the God of both the living and the dead, because our God brings life to what is dead. In God we receive new life and are reunited with all whom we have lost. This is what Christ has accomplished for us. Holding those relationships and people in your hearts, entrust them to the God of life, who will comfort you in all your loss, and who promises you new life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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