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Living in the Light

Today we celebrate All-Saints Day, a Christian Feast that goes back to the fourth century. In the West the tradition goes back to the first Christian worship held in the Pantheon in Rome in 609. It is a day to give thanks for saints known and unknown, those through whom the light of God has shone in our world, and in our faith story. We honour and remember those who have passed on some of their spirit and presence to us.

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. But in the New Testament, Paul writes to the small churches he was founding and wrote to all the saints in that particular place. It seems he used it to mean those who were believers; those who were part of the community. Those who were trying to live their lives faithfully. And he spoke of a communion of saints; meaning those alive and those who had died.

One of my favourite quotes for All Saints Day comes from Natalie Goldberg:
“Whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other’s presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then we go on carrying that other person in our body, not unlike springtime when certain plants in fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants, our caps, as if to say ‘Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place.’ This is how we survive long after we are dead . This is why it is important who we become, because we pass it on.”

And another from Robert Ellsberg.

“The saints are those who in some partial way embody-literally incarnate- the challenge of faith in their time and place. In doing so they open a path that others might follow.”

When I was a “sophisticated” rational Christian, I found the image of the communion of saints to be irrelevant, and archaic. But after working as a pastor for over 20 years, sitting at the bedsides of the dying, walking with the grieving, I have come to accept almost in a literal way, the imagery and symbolism of the communion of saints. For I have indeed been “visited” on more than one occasion by the spirits of those who have died; and felt the presence and energy of those who have gone before. And I know, from talking with others, that this is by no means a unique experience. Many of us have a sense that those who have gone before continue to be present in our hearts, in the legacy of love they leave behind, in the wisdom they have passed on. And many experience the sense of presence of their loved ones after death.

I have had the experience of reading ancient spiritual writings and it is almost as if the spirit of the person who had the experience is present; has touched a place in my soul and left their mark and their wisdom. 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 not forgotten.

In my own life, I know that when I have an important decision to make, or when I have to go into a place that I fear, I call in my own communion of saints…those living and dead who have loved me, and who embody the values I admire, and invite their spirits to speak their wisdom to me, and I believe I often am led and receive insights I did not have before.

In what has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of those who are blessed. Jesus speaks prophetically of the great reversal of human understanding that happens when we encounter in the reign of God. A few lines later in the scripture he reminded his followers to be like light for the world; to not hide light, but to hold it up in places where the light will shine for others. We honour those who have lived in this beatitude way; those through whom Divine light has shone.

Today we honour our spiritual ancestors, those whose lives we carry with us. Those we have known personally, and those from generations before us who have created the stories that empower us, lived and passed on faith, those whose journeys with God have given us wisdom, and courage.

1. Let us remember those who have lived and loved deeply, who found their inner strength from you, the Divine Beloved…….

2.Let us remenber the light-filled ones, who enkindled our spirits with their teachings and the spark of their beliefs…….

3. Let us remember the risk-takers who faced their fears and took action, who sought justice even though they had to pay a price for it……

4. Let us remember the vulnerable ones, who allowed us to care for them, to be with them in their time of need……

5. Let us remember the faith-filled ones who brought us to the Holy One, who led us, by their words and example, into deeper relationship with God…….

6. Let us remember the courageous ones who walked through their struggles with hope, who taught us how to trust and have confidence during our times of sorrow and difficulty……

7. Let us remember those who plant peace each season, those who hasten the coming of God’s new creation…….

8. Let us remember the great lovers of life, whose humour and enthusiasm lifted
our spirits and brought us joy….

9. Let us remember the nurturers who birth us physically and spiritually, who gave us sustenance by their caring presence…….

Sacred One, Giver and Sustainer of life, we thank you for the holy ones we have known. May our lives model their virtues. May our hearts resonate with their goodness.

Amen.

(Based on material from Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary.)

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