Beginning and Ending in God
Revelation 21: 1-6a
When I was a little kid I was intermittently and sometimes simultaneously afraid of teenagers and impressed by them. Especially groups of teenagers. I remember one Saturday morning when I went out into the neighborhood to sell Girl Scout cookies. I’d gone a couple of blocks and then, there on the other side of the street, in a big, scary, boisterous bunch were…teenagers. I think they were probably washing a car or hanging out next to a car getting ready to pile in and go somewhere, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I decided that was enough cookie-selling for that day and high-tailed it home. I don’t think my mom understood when I told her I couldn’t sell any more because of teenagers.
I had more of the reverence reaction whenever our family would travel to the mountains on fall weekends. This is where I first learned about the Appalachian Trail and the concept of the through-hiker. We would be parked at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, snapping pictures and stretching our legs, when I’d see one. A young, hairy, dirty, lean hiker with a huge backpack, emerging from the woods. We didn’t camp as a family and only occasionally did we venture away from the overlooks onto the trails for a mile or so. But I was entranced by these young, roving, independent hikers with everything they needed strapped to their backs. I looked for them at every stop but I don’t think I ever managed to say a word to any of them. Reverence and fear.
We also had babysitters when I was little and for a while there was a succession of sisters from the Jones family. Sarah was our first babysitter, freckled and jolly, and we thought it was great when our parents went out because we got to hang out with her. Then one day, as we were busy getting excited about Sarah coming over while our parents were busy getting ready to go out, they informed us that Sarah had done something unimaginable, like gone off to college. So we were going to meet her younger sister, Suzie, that night. We were not the least bit interested in Suzie. We wanted Sarah. We were vaguely angry with Sarah for presuming to have her own life that didn’t involve us anymore. Suzie was our consolation prize and we would not be consoled.
But Suzie showed up, younger, more fun, sweet, and hilarious. When we said we were hungry, she announced we’d be having “Deborah and David Treats.” What??!? There was a snack with our names on it and we’d never had it??!? I don’t know if she improvised the salty-sweet concoction on the spot or if this was a little gem she pulled out at every house where she babysat, adjusting the title as needed. It will sound weird to you and it probably wouldn’t taste nearly as good to me now, though I still think about them sometimes. But, in case you need a snack later, here is the “Deborah and David Treats” recipe: Take saltine crackers and put them on a cookie sheet. Then place a slice of cheddar cheese and one mini-marshmallow on each cracker and warm in the oven until the cheese melts and the marshmallows are browned and gooey.
Why am I reminiscing with you about my geeky childhood? I don’t know how it was for those of you who were middle or youngest children, but as the oldest in my family and the oldest cousin on both sides, I was always looking forward. I was always hoping to find someone just a little older and wiser and more experienced who could show me how it was done. Whatever “it” was. Being a teenager, hiking the world, being cool and creative on the spot with strangers…And it seems to me that this is a good stance for Christians, too.
We are celebrating All Saints Day today, the annual point in the Christian year when we remember those who have died in the past year, but also the day when we celebrate what it means to live as part of a communion of saints. A body of people all aiming to be more Christ-like, helping to show one another how it’s done and looking for help and examples when we are afraid or don’t know our next move.
People get confused about this day or are too strict with their definitions. It’s not about naming all the people who have been officially named saints by the Roman Catholic Church and it’s not about lifting up singularly spectacular people like Mother Theresa. It can be about that but it also has to be about recognizing those who have helped blaze trails for you – people you know and have known personally and those you’ve never met.
All Saints is about reminding ourselves of the story we are living, a story whose beginning and ending is in God. When we gather around the Table each week, we remind ourselves that we don’t own the Table and we don’t host the Meal. We remind ourselves that it’s a Table that is way bigger than it looks, with room enough for everyone who comes when Jesus calls.
We also remind ourselves that we are part of a much bigger story than merely the story of our own individual lives. We recite the amazing things God has done for God’s people throughout time and we ask for God’s presence with us again at this very moment in this very Feast. And, when we sing (or say) the Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of heaven and earth…— we do so “with [God’s] people on earth and all the company of heaven.” In this sacrament, through the mystery of God, we join a Feast that’s been going on for all of time. A Feast that is eternal – out of time – and at which we gather around the Table with our grandparents and our grandchildren at the same moment.
The first time I stood here and celebrated Communion after my grandfather died, we were using a liturgy that mentions singing God’s praise with those of us here on earth and those who have “joined the closer harmony on heaven,” and I was taken aback, standing at the Table, praying those words, looking down at the bread and wine, and realizing that for the first time that meant my grandfather (A Wee Worship Book). The harmonies of heaven were louder and clearer for me that day and that beautiful prayer I thought I understood came closer to home for me.
As I have gotten older, I continue my oldest child habit of looking for those “ahead” of me but I also have so many great examples “beside” and “behind” me, too. I’m in a room full of saints right now and many times you all have been examples for me in my own faith journey. Celebrating this Feast with you each week reminds me that though we don’t know the particulars of where we will end up in life, we do know that God is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (v. 6a). We begin and end in God and, along the way, we have so many reminders and examples and gifts through the lives of others, showing us more of who God is and more of who we are called to be.
In a few moments there will be space for reflecting on and celebrating those saints we know and have known. I’ll invite you up to light a candle and share their names with us.
And later, when we pray the Great Thanksgiving tonight, listen for our beginning and ending in God and give thanks again for those saints in your life. Our Communion is with them, each other, and God. Know that as we pray, they are standing with us, praying with us, all of us gathered around that great Feast.
Thanks be to God!
© 2012 Deborah E. Lewis