All Saints Day
Sunday, November 1, 2020
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Anna-Lisa Gotschlich came to church every Sunday. Even after a stroke, when she couldn’t drive, her family arranged transportation to get her to church. She used a walker, and as a tough Swede, she was determined to come forward for Communion by herself every Sunday. After church she always met me at the door with thanksgiving and appreciation for the service.
Claire Salerno couldn’t make it to church every Sunday because of her failing heart over the last several months of her life. But, her heart was full of love and generosity – it was Claire who insisted I get a new green chasuble. Many of you have commented on the chasuble she purchased for me, it is the green one I wear adorned with the image of a multicultural gathering of children.
Kathy Wedemeyer was a pastor’s wife and Stephen’s Minister. Unfortunately, Kathy was in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s Disease when I arrived at Trinity. Those who loved Kathy and knew her well, were motivated on her behalf to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease.
Anna Hagberg was a longtime member of Trinity. She was a lector who read God’s word with passion and gusto. On a Sunday Anna was lector a seminary professor of mine visited Trinity. He commented on the many ways he felt blessed in the service, and he singled out Anna’s heartfelt reading of the word as a way he was specially moved and blessed during the service.
Richard Gustafson was another longtime member of Trinity who had just turned 97-years-old before he died. He was a singer, singing in the Mendehlsson Singers at Trinity. Several years ago he was struck by an automobile and was in a coma for several months. Again, another tough and determined Swede, he came through. He was nearly blind, and so his niece read him the Trinity News. I was amazed when I visited him how well he knew what was going on in the church he loved and had been a member of his whole life.
Christine Loving recalled a time as a young girl she was persuaded to be Mary in the Christmas pageant which meant riding a donkey across the front of the Nave. I bonded with Chris over her love of sports. When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2019 she told me she wanted to live to opening day of the 2020 baseball season. She died on July 23rd, which because of the Covid-19 delays to the season, happened to be opening day.
When I met Audrey Carlson in the nursing home she had a furrowed brow and a scowl on her face. But as we talked, a smile would break through, but then, she would quickly put it away as if she might get caught smiling.
Walter & Emily Fred were married November 23, 1946; Leonard & Shirlee Johnson were married three weeks later on December 14th. 74 years later, we remember these two couples, these four saints who all died in the past year. Two marriages that both lasted 73-years, with both sets of spouses dying within months of each other.
Jamamma Kumeh was a Liberian immigrant and member of Concordia Lutheran Church. She was a mother of three children and was described as a woman full of zest, joy, and life. As she lay in her casket I saw she was a woman of great beauty and could image her big smile that others remembered. She died of Covid-19 just three weeks after her 43rd birthday.
Kal Hyyrynen was a transfer to Trinity from Mt. Olivet and I met him just once. I never met Marjorie Borg, Calvert Mann, Sonja Carlson Smith, Dorothy Phinney, or Gary Wilder. But these saints were known and loved by God. Those who knew them would have their own unique stories to tell of their lives.
Today on this All Saints Sunday we remember the dead.
As we do every All Saints Sunday, we remember with thanksgiving the saints among us who have died in the previous year. This All Saints day, because Covid-19 delayed and changed normal funeral planning, robbing so many of the necessary opportunities to gather with family, friends, and a church community, I thought a brief comment on our beloved dead appropriate for today.
For Lutherans the sadness of death is not compounded with uncertainty about the deceased’s eternal state. In the mercy of Jesus Christ, in faith, we believe salvation is bestowed upon us as an unconditional gift of grace. We do not count up good works hoping we earn our way into heaven. Rather, in faith, we believe that in the waters of baptism, we are joined to the death and resurrection of Christ and receive the promise that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love.
It is in this faith, we sing together the beautiful commendation written and arranged by Cantor Mark, that we will sing later in our liturgy today. We sing that all of us go down to the dust, yet, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, even at the grave we make our song Alleluia! In faith, we can sing Alleluia, because in the power of the resurrection, we can see in death the gateway to eternal life. We make our song Alleluia, because even in death, our hope that our god we worship, is a god of life, healing, and community.
The scriptures appointed for All Saints Day announce God’s work in Jesus Christ bringing life to the world.
In the Gospel reading today [Matthew 5:1-12] Jesus presents the disciples, at the beginning of their ministry together, a vision for community. Jesus’ teaching, some call the Beatitudes, both describe God’s work bringing life to the world…and prescribe human action to participate in God’s work.
The Beatitudes describes God’s action and promises: God will give the kingdom to the poor in spirit … will give comfort to the mourning … will give the very earth to the meek … will provide a feast for those hungering and thirsting for righteousness … God will pour out mercy upon the merciful … will reveal himself to the pure in heart … and will proclaim peacemakers God’s children …
No one is forgotten in God’s beloved community – all are remembered, known, and loved – God promises the kingdom to those so easily overlooked by society, to those pushed to the margins, to all cast out altogether.
And, the Beatitudes prescribe the work to which we are called as disciples. Remember, Jesus turned from the crowds to sit down and teach his disciples, and the crowds overheard this teaching. We might imagine this teaching, at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry with the disciples, as their game plan, his expectations for living on Team Jesus.
Jesus invited his disciples then, and invites us as disciples today: to hunger and thirst for righteousness … to live in meekness (as one commentator noted, meekness does not mean timidity – but rather, with power restrained, controlled, and in service to a king or higher power) … to live in mercy, with pure hearts, as peacemakers … to persist through the inevitable persecution that would come, to know that they were blessed in their labors, that their work would not be in vain.
Receive the Beatitudes today as a gift of life.bIn these ways God promises to show up in Christ to bring blessing. In these ways we are invited to show up for one another in faith, to bring peace and healing to the world.
The second reading today, Revelation 7:9-17, contains one of my favorite verses in the bible – Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
No xenophobia, racial bias, or prejudice in this community; no border walls keeping out the unwanted; instead this community drawn together by Christ including people of all races and cultures and tribes and peoples and languages. No have-nots, no left-outs, no suffering in any way in this community.
This community of the redeemed “will hunger and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This community of the redeemed drawn together by Jesus Christ, a community of life and blessing, of love and rejoicing, of worship and praise for all peoples. Again, this vision both describes God’s work in Christ bringing all peoples together, and prescribes our actions as disciples to participate in that community right now.
Alive in Christ who draws people together of all tribes, peoples and languages, we are called right now to live, and act, and vote in ways that reflect this vision, that God’s love, mercy, and justice is for all peoples.
The Good News of this All Saints Sunday, is that God establishes holy and beloved community right now, here among us, with us/for us/in us/through us, and not even sin, death, or the powers of hell can stop it. We give thanks for the many and countless ways God’s work of life and community flowed through our beloved dead – for those we name today, and for all those who continue to live on in our hearts and minds. AND, we give thanks for the living saints today! We give thanks for the power of God working community in us here in this place.
Yesterday, as part of our recorded Service of the Word for All Saints Sunday, Henry Rohde was baptized. In his baptism, Henry was claimed and named a member of God’s holy community forever. In the promise of baptism, is the promise that God’s beloved community both includes and flows through this child of God.
And we give thanks that his parents, Joshua and Sarah, back in January, joined this community of faith by Affirmation of their own Baptisms. We are grateful and appreciative of the ways they have already blessed this community with their musical talents, and look forward, as we can gather safely again in community, to learning more of the ways they may be a blessing. Here is God establishing community.
Today,we give thanks that three new members join this community through Affirmation of Baptism. We are just getting to know Norma, Diane, and Wayne. We don’t yet know all the gifts, talents, and passions they bring to this place. But I will say, one gift they bring is faithfulness in worship attendance – they faithfully attended worship almost every Sunday before the pandemic, and have attended almost every Sunday since July when we started worship again. I invite you to get to know them, welcome and include them – to be open to how God is working life and blessing through them. Together, let us be blessed in relationship with them, as together, we participate in the ministry in this place.
Yes, the Good News today, on this All Saints Sunday, is that our God is a God of life!
In the lives of the saints we remember today, we give thanks for the ways God’s community was enacted by their love and witness, by their failings, in the forgiveness of their sins. In the saints who join this community of faith today, we give thanks not for perfect humans, but for God’s power working through these sinners, proclaiming them saints, and establishing the reign of God.
The Good News today, is that though living or dead, through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ – yours is the kingdom of God! Yours is the living kingdom of life, of community, of relationship! And so, along with the living and dead saints we receive and remember today, let us make our song, “Alleluia!”
Thanks be to God!