“The Communion of Saints”

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That line from the Apostles’ Creed is a favorite of mine. And All Saints’ Sunday is, too — that Sunday when we remember those saints who are ‘absent from the body, but present with the Lord,’ all of whom are forever part of the church triumphant. And there are so many. So many. The writer of Hebrews describes them as a ‘great cloud of witnesses,’ and on this special Sunday, I can almost see them, surrounding us as we worship.

IMG_6236We used an adaptation of a litany from the Book of Common Prayer on Sunday, listing off saints from years/decades/centuries gone by, leaving space to mention more recent saints, ones whom we know and love. Each communal response: “Come, and stand beside us.” And in a powerful way, I could sense them all, standing there with us, as we spoke and sang together.

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I helped with worship leadership while our senior pastor was out of town, and as always, I found that solemn procession of our gathered body intensely moving. At least 200 people went forward to pick up a lighted candle in memory of a loved one, placing it on the altar or the communion table.  Two mothers who each lost a son too early held one another’s arms as they walked back to their seats. Several congregants who lost loved parents in the last year walked by me, tears in their eyes. I placed a candle for my dad and my brother and my son-in-law; Dick placed one for each of his parents. They were glistening and guttering throughout the rest of the service, literally surrounding us with light and warmth. As that silent crowd moved through the chancel, we sang through all the verses of “For All the Saints.” We needed every single one to accommodate the crush of people who chose to remember and rejoice. 

Yes, I love this Sunday.

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Pastor Jon preached a rich sermon on the Lazarus text in John 11, taking a different tack than most: Lazarus, dead and stinking, as a model for discipleship. Oh, so SPOT ON. Why? Because Jesus is in the habit of resuscitating those who are dead. Ask me how I know.

We spend far too much time trying to prove ourselves worthy when all that is asked of us is to respond to the Word of invitation: “Come out!” And then, we are asked to help one another shed those grave clothes, to uncover our faces and let go of all that entangles and trips us. And that includes our ever-lovin’ need to save ourselves, rather than simply allow the grace of God to flow through us and then out again, into the worlds in which we each live. I needed that reminder, that kind of good truth-telling. Maybe you do, too?

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Forty-eight hours later, I had lunch with my mama, whom I love and whom I miss, both at the same time. In many ways, it would have been appropriate to carry a lit candle forward for her on Sunday. Because the mama I have known all my life — at least, most of the mama I have known — is no longer here. What remains is beautiful, that is true. But what remains is also so terribly confused.

Each time we are together, I am less able to decipher what she is talking about. The sentences are complete (most of the time) — they just don’t connect with one another. Nor do the pronouns she liberally sprinkles into each phrase have an easily discernible referent. It is always a guessing game, one that I am less and less able to play very well.

IMG_6307My sweet mama loves to go to the balcony overlook at the Mountain View Cafe in the Life Center building at the retirement community where she lives. She loves to look out at the mountains and the clouds, even though she can see only the barest outline of the landscape due to severe macular degeneration. She has now conflated some of her diminishing memories and it’s increasingly difficult for me to pull apart the tender threads and make any kind of sensible response to the running commentary she offers.

But we always smile at each other. And we laugh, wherever and whenever we can. And we enjoy our food. It was colder than usual at lunch and my mother is always cold. So she wore two jackets — hers and mine — and sipped on hot tea until it was no longer hot. And she ate the first half of her cheeseburger with sighs of delight over every bite. Then, a few minutes later, I asked if she’d like to eat the other half. And she looked at it. And she looked at me. And she asked, with a worried tone, “What is that??”

“What is that?”

Oh, mercy me.

“That’s the other half of your sandwich, Mama. The one that you said was so good.”

She picked it up, thoroughly confused as to which end was which and at the words ‘so good,’ immediately said, “Yes! It was good.”

And she began to eat.

I battled tears on the way home, missing her so much. Not wanting her to leave, but somehow wishing that neither of us would have to lose any more pieces of her before she goes home to Jesus.

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It was a glory day today , and that helped. A true central California fall day, just about the first one we’ve enjoyed thus far in these six weeks of autumn. 

I took her back to her room, sat her in her recliner, with her feet up, and covered her with the cozy fleece blanket our daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago. She was happy, calm, content.

And then I went home. Grateful down to my toes for the communion I enjoy with this saint in my life — the one I have today, and the one who is no longer here.

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Here is the prayer I shared at the communion table, working from Jon’s description of his sermon earlier in the week. It wove its way nicely through the words that he shared. It never ceases to amaze me how the Spirit does that with our words — weaves them together, even when we are unaware of it.

A Prayer for Communion — “All We Like Lazarus”

Sunday, November 1, 2015; All Saints’ Sunday; Montecito Covenant Church

Here we are again, Lord. Gathering ‘round your table,

this place where we are reminded every month that we are bodily creatures.

Yes, indeed, all of us here have bodies — young, old, healthy, sick, strong, weak. We have these bodies that eat and move — some more easily than others — with minds and mouths that think and pray, and wonder and argue. Sometimes, these bodies even dance and sing.

Right now, they are sitting still, and we’re trying to focus our wondering, wandering minds on the good truths Jon has shared with us from your word this morning.

We’re here, Lord. At the table now. We’re here because you asked us to be here. Long ago, you invited us to take these simple things, this bread and this cup, and to eat and drink them together.

Together.

There’s something important about that part, isn’t there? And on this Sunday, we’re reminded more strongly than ever that when we gather these bodies of ours in this place, it’s not just we who are here. On this Communion Day, this All Saints’ Communion Day, we are more aware than we usually are of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to which we belong as earthlings. Thank you for the saints who have gone before us, thank you that in some way we cannot begin to fathom, they are still with us.

All of us together – saints on earth and saints in heaven – want to take just a moment to set aside these table gifts this morning. First, we want to thank you for them. To say thank you for the simplicity of them, for the everydayness of torn up bread and lukewarm grape juice. And second, we ask you to bless that ordinariness, and to infuse this simple ritual, with its familiar words, to infuse it with your presence, your holy presence that sees us, exactly as we are, and welcomes us here, nevertheless.

Help us to hear your call to ‘come out,’ dead and stinky though we may be. And help us to help each other loosen those grave clothes — all those things that bind us and hinder us from fully following after you.

Yes, Lord, even as we eat this blessed bread, and drink this set-aside cup, remind us that we do it together.

Lazarus is our model today, will you help us to learn from him? And there are other saints who can teach us, too. Saints whose lives tell the story of your powerful restorative and transforming work. And the truth is, sometimes, those saints are us. You are doing that good work in us.

Help us to tell our Lazarus stories to others, and help us to hear them from others, too. Too often, we forget to do either — to tell or to listen. Forgive us for that, Lord, and for the too many other ways in which we falter and fail, we fumble and flail.

But as this table so beautifully reminds us, your grace is more than a match for all of our faults. For this is a table of life! Even as we remember your death, Jesus, we do it in light of the resurrection. And all that is dead and dying in us can be redeemed, called out to newness of life.

Glory!

Hallelujah.

Amen.

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Comments

  1. A truly, truly beautiful and touching post Diana. It sounds like a wonderful service im every way, such richness and grace here in this place. Prayers for you and your Mama. I love Santa Barbara, what a blessing to live in such a gorgeous place. I do miss California and the coast.

  2. An amazing post, Diana. Your words moved me deeply. Blessings!

  3. Wow. Such a heart-touching post, Diana. First, you described so beautifully that meaningful worship experience for All Saints’ Sunday. And then your poignant description of this week’s lunch with your mama, although sad, is also overflowing with tender love. God IS doing amazing work through you, as you minister at your church, to your mom, to the rest of your family, to us (your readers), and many others. No doubt about it!

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