Give thanks for those whose faith is firm
when all around seem bleak;
on God’s good promise they rely,
so while they live and when they die
how forcefully they speak—
the strong who once were weak!
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship #428)
I have served as pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Covenant for only four years, but I feel I have already preached far too many funeral sermons.
At first, it was an occasional funeral for those who were homebound and not deeply involved in the life of the parish. But as time went on we were saying goodbye more frequently to some very active parishioners, some relatively young, who seemingly were present one day and gone the next. Given the age of the majority of our congregation, the future promises that this will become an increasingly more frequent occurrence.
As we approach another All Saints Sunday (November 3, 2013) I begin to reflect on the lives of those from our faith community who have entered the Church Triumphant in the past year. And though the hope of the Resurrection is a cornerstone of our theology, it cannot begin to suppress the pain of recalling the loved ones who are no longer among the living.
I am loath to name names, for fear of offending those families who may feel their loved one was slighted, but I especially cherish the memory of the ones who have been a blessing to me and my ministry in the brief time that I knew them. Though I obviously spent more time with some than with others, my heart is filled with gratitude for having known all of them; that I, for albeit a short while, was able to be a part of their lives, to share in their joys and their sorrows, to have been allowed a glimpse into their personalities, their histories, their hopes and dreams, their witness to the faith they professed. I recall with fondness the stories they revealed and the delight with which they told them. I saw the face of God in each and every one of them.
On November 1st, the actual All Saints Day, I will pray for each of them. I will read the homilies I wrote, recall the final time I saw them, and give thanks to God for having placed them along the path of my faith journey. For it is through the lives of these saints that we are encouraged to go on living, to face the relentless daily challenges that life hurls at us. It is through their lives that we learn that God walks alongside us, preparing us for the day when we too will know the fullness of God and live in God’s eternal presence.