07 Nov YOU COULD DIE TOMORROW – Proper 27, November 06, 2022
Preacher: Rev. Stephen McPeek
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you
a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the
eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has
called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe,
according to the working of his great power.
This prayer that was prayed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is a good place to start when we reflect on the saints and the communion of all saints. It is not something we can grasp solely with our intellect. We need the spirit of wisdom and revelation, we need to see with the eyes of hearts that can only be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, so that we get an inkling of what we are celebrating today.
- Today we celebrate the lives of all of those people who lived on earth and followed Jesus and were examples of how to live in relationship with God.
- We also commemorate our loved ones who have gone before us and who were faithful in their lives with God.
- And in many ways, we celebrate ourselves, because we too are called saints.
The Episcopal online dictionary defines a saint as:
A holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ. In the NT, the term is applied to all faithful Christians (see Acts 9:32, 26:10).
The term later came to be applied to “elite” Christians whose
lives were distinguished and exemplary because of their self-sacrifice, witness, virtue, or accomplishments. Special recognition was given to the martyrs of the early church. A feast of All Martyrs dates from at least thethird century. The saints were the heroes of the church. The celebration of All Saints’ Day in the west dates from at least the ninth century. I am quite certain that none of these “elite” saints would have considered themselves elite. Instead, they probably would be uncomfortable being given so much attention because in their minds, they were just like any of us.
Who do you celebrate today? Which of those special people do you look up to as you seek to follow Christ? Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of
Calcutta, Damien of Molokai?
Which saints (friends, relatives) do you celebrate who were and are close to you
while they lived on earth? Think of them and name them quietly.
I don’t know if you noticed, but not once did I say the word death or die. This is because I believe we need a reframing of our understanding of life and death as those who love God.
In the Gospel of John, we read:
Jesus acknowledges that there is a time when our lives on earth come to an end, but he also says that those who are connected to him continue living. We read many things about death in the Bible, and I honestly don’t think anyone knows for certain exactly what happens when our time on earth is ended. However, this truth from the Gospel of John is important – our lives continue even when our time on earth has ended.
What do you think of death? What do you think about your own life ending? What about the life of someone you love? Are you afraid of death? For some of us, the moment when we will transition to the next life is not that far off. Those who are young don’t tend to think much about death and yet we never know when our time has come. I am certain my daughter did not think her life on earth would end at age 39. One thing is certain – even if we act like we just can’t believe it – our lives on earth WILL come to an end and we will transition to another life.
As most of you know, my family is way more acquainted with the passing of loved ones than most. In the period from 2005 to 2009, 5 pillars of our family passed – first an uncle, six months later my wife, then Grandma, six months later Grandpa, and 6 months after Grandpa, my Mom. Just when we were taking a deep breath and giving thanks that life was stabilizing, my daughter, Melody, passed in 2018, followed by my daughter Michelle a little over 6 months ago, and finally my spouse Vinny a little over 4 months ago. When you go through something like this that shakes you to the core, there are very few options. One option is that despair and grief overwhelm you and hold you in shackles and life gets suspended. Another option is that you reassess your theology about life and death, you let your understanding about God be reshaped, and you find your way to the sacred mystery that we pronounce every time we celebrate the Eucharist together. That mystery is that we are connected to Christ and in our connection to Christ, we are connected to every single person who is connected to Christ, both here on earth and on the other side of the veil.
While there is a painful end to life on earth as we have known and enjoyed it, those who pass through that thin veil between life on earth and life on the other side of the veil continue in a life that is beautiful and glorious in the intimate connection with our Creator.
A second major thing that can happen when we are confronted with the end of life on earth is that we deal with the fear of death. This fear is a real fear that can plague and cripple us. The writer of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 2:14, 15) that Jesus experienced death so that he could deliver us from the lifelong slavery of the fear of death.
After Michelle died, we were sitting together as a family, writing thank you notes to those who had so generously given money towards her final expenses. We began to talk about the fear in our hearts after having suffered the loss of so many relatives, and in this case the loss of 2 siblings. My children expressed how vulnerable they felt and how they feared they would be next. It broke my heart to experience my children in the fear, and I knew how real this fear is. And I also know how possible it is for Jesus to free us of that fear.
And finally, a part of the reframing of life and death is our understanding of the communion of saints. Every time we recite the Nicene Creed, we profess that we believe in the Communion of Saints. The communion of saints is that group of people, both living on earth, and living beyond the veil who were baptized into Jesus and love and follow him. Because we are connected to Christ, we are also connected to one another. This knowledge comforts me deeply and helps me bear the pain of absence of those I love and miss. V
Reshaped Understanding of Life and Death
- Our lives and the lives of those we love continue living in a beautiful way in intimacy with God.
- We let go of the fear of death – the fear of our own death, and the fear of the death of those we love.
- We find peace in the communion of saints – though our loved ones are no longer with us on earth, they are with us in the connection with Christ.
Almighty God, you have knit together
your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.