Strengthened by the Vision
Mark 12: 28-34
Celtic Christianity speaks of certain times and places asâ€œthin placesâ€ Places where two worlds meetâ€“where the veil between the holy and the ordinary is very thin where we feel closer to sacred Presence.
This time of changing of season, of changing light has been understood in many parts of the world as a time when the veil is thin. In countries in Central and South America people visit the graves of loved ones and celebrate a feast of remembering. Our Halloween tradition connects with ancient Celtic traditions of Samhain, when it was believed that the veil was thin allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. In order to ward off harmful spirits people wore costumes and masks, to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.
Sometimes specific locations are experienced as thin places, sacred places. The Islands of Iona and Lindisfarne have certainly been that for me and for many others. So have the North shore of Lake Superior, and my back yard sitting beside my pond. We all have special places that for us would be Holy places, places where we feel closer to the sacred, closer to the truth of who we are.
Some churches are like that. You feel the prayer and music and healing that has become part of that place. It is as if it has seeped into the very building itself, and your heart tunes its rhythms to the flow of love and presence that is already there.
For many of us, death and grief are times when the veil is thin. As we stand before the mystery of death, we often find ourselves rethinking our relationship with the Holy, and our relationship with others, and our relationship with ourselves. We reexamine how we have been living, what we have been valuing, where we have been spending our energy, our time, and our resources. Loss can call us to pay attention to what really matters; to live more intentionally, more wisely, more connected with God.
Today we celebrate all saints day, a tradition dating back to the 4th century as Christians honoured and remembered those who had gone before, whose light and life had left deep imprints on their lives and the life of their community; those who had passed on the love of God, the light of the gospel, the light of their spirit and presence. Saints are sometimes called â€œthose through whom the light shinesâ€.
The protestant church has sometimes missed this important sacred season, associating it with the Roman Catholic tradition of canonizing saints and all the rules for who Is and who Is not a saint. So we think of Saints as people out of our league…special people on a pedestal. But that is not how the early church thought of them, Paul writes to all the saints in in ths small imperfect communities he had founded. It seems he used it to mean those who were part of the community. Those who were trying to live their lives faithful to the Jesus way of love of God, of neighbour, of self. And Paul spoke in some of those letters of a communion of saints; meaning those alive and those who had died, believing that the spiritual presence of those who had gone before was part of the community.
Today we read just a small part of the vision of John of Patmos, a vision given at a time of persecution and terror, but which has continued to strengthen saints and spiritual seekers; perhaps because of the God John encounters in this vision; a God who desires for people living in turmoil a new creation, new beginnings the possibility of a new life. A God who promises to make all things new, who is trustworthy; who holds all time, the beginning and the end in her embrace. A God who is not far off, distant, uncaring, but who longs to dwell in the midst of her people, in the heart of her people; And what will be the signs that that is happening? the poor will be blessed, the hungry filled, and every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying out in pain. Powerful words of promise and hope that strengthened the saints to whom it was addressed, but which continues to strengthen us today.
Visions strengthen. Hope strengthens, Love strengthens.
Today we remember those who have brought us their visions and teaching. We honour our spiritual ancestors, those whose lives we carry with us. those who in some partial way embodied the love and spirit of God in their own time and place, and who open a path for us to follow in our own day. We remember those we have known personally, and those from generations before us who have created the stories that empower us, those wholived and passed on faith, those whose journeys with God have given us wisdom, and courage.
None of us is an island. The tapestry of life is woven on the stories and lives and wisdom of those who have gone before. And we are called to live our part of this tapestry of life, making sure that the threads are not broken and the stories and the visions are not forgotten.