JULIE KAE SIGARS
Isaiah 25:6-9 | Psalm 24 | Revelation 21:1-6a | John 11:32-44
When I was growing up, every holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July, birthdays, every gathering of all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, for whatever reason, they were all FEAST Days. We didn’t call them that. Not sure that good Presbyterians, with a sprinkling of Methodists would use that term. But, believe me, they were feast days. When we gathered, there was a feast. So much food. Tables filled with it. Tables for us to sit in multiple rooms. Adult tables, kids’ tables.
Even today, with me being away for over 34 years, when I talk with my mom after any of these gatherings, the first thing she says is, “Oh my, we ate and ate. Too much food.” And then will tell me everything that people had brought. Then we would talk about how everybody was doing. The good. The bad. The new great grandbabies. The health problems. You know. Life. That happens.
But first, there is food.
Food and memory seem to go together. We remember meals. We tell stories around tables. Some cultures and faiths sing around their tables.
And when the stories stop, when the songs are gone, then the people lose their way.
This week, while studying for today, I was reminded that pictures on our phones, or pictures of ANY sort, that movies, videos, youtubes, all those things we use to remember are such NEW things to help us remember. Think of the thousands of years of human existence and how they remembered….remembered who they were, how they came to be, what had happened to generations before them, what were the hopes for the future. How remembering the past became a way of also imagining a future.
The Table of God in Isaiah. Doesn’t it present hope and well-being? Rich food, the best wine…we waited for this God, and This God came to us, bringing a feast. This God took away the shroud of death. This God dried the tears from every face. This God did all this for every nation. This God swallowed up death.
We could tell the stories, the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, because this God would bring new life and wipe away the tears.
And from Revelations: “Then I saw a new heaven and earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”
A loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them. He will wipe every tear. Death will be no more. Mourning, crying, pain will be no more.”
These early Christians, living under the cruel emperor Diocletian, these early followers of Christ remembered and had hope and comfort for the future… the emperor inflicted severe torture on these people, and he also wanted to control their religious imaginations. But no. We can see a time…God will dwell among us again. Pain? No more. Mourning? No more. Death? No more. And their baptisms gave them hope. They had put on Christ. And were citizens of this new Jerusalem. We do not know their stories of torture or how they may have survived or even if they recanted their faith…But we do know how they imagined their freedom, if it ever came…They imagined a universal humanity. A new heaven AND a new earth. See! I AM. I AM making all things new. [Roger A. Ferlo FOTW]
Lazarus. Now here is a family story. We know Mary and Martha. We know Lazarus. We know Jesus has a relationship with them all. Jesus has had meals at their table. We know Jesus loved them and suffered with them in their loss. But again, we hear a loud voice, this time the voice of Jesus [did anyone here grow up with the saying, be quiet! You are speaking so loud you will wake the dead?!] Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus DID come out. Bound in burial cloths. And Jesus said to the community: Unbind him, and let him go.”
When I hear of folks worried about the church, any church, the church of Jesus Christ, and the future, how things are not like they use to be, you know the stories, I cannot help but think we have lost our stories and our religious imaginations, and I can hear a loud voice
Church: Come Out! Be unbound and Go!
Church: Come to this table of amazing things! There is no crying here! And if there is, I will wipe every tear!
Church: Look! Look who is gathered at this table! Hear the stories that they bring! The host welcomes them here! From all time and space! We will sing together and hear again about our beginning, about God the creator of all good things.
And today, we bring our imaginations and our hopes and our stories to this table. To this feast. As we remember those we love who have died. We know in many different ways, they are here with us. This was promised to us. And to make this knowing something we can hold and see and share, we have added a table of remembrance and presence. Our loved ones are not candles. But the light of the candles can remind us of the light their lives gave to us, and can mark on this All Saints Feast Day what we know every time we come to the Lord’s Table: There is a place for all here. And we can share this meal with them in ways that give us strength to live out our lives in full and courageous way.
I will be lighting a candle for my daddy. I feel his presence at each meal. He never saw me at table in his earthly life. I can sense his joy here in whatever his life is now.
I will also light a candle in honor of one Rev. Fred Rogers. Yesterday, a facebook family joined in together over a youtube of Mr. Rogers speaking to television industry people about their roles as servants…as being chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen, day and night. About making “goodness attractive” by doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own, by treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves, and allowing THAT to inform EVERYTHING they do. He then asked the audience to take 10 seconds to think of someone who helped them love the good that grows within them, who wanted the best for them in life, who encouraged them.
And after the ten seconds, he said, “no matter where they are, either here or in heaven, imagine….imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now.”
That will preach on this Lord’s Day.
Our place of remembrance, our place of thankfulness, our place of presence, you will notice they are like our baptismal bowl. And it is a vision of that river that flows from the throne of God, out into the world, for the healing of the nations… remember? More hopeful religious imagination from Revelations…. As we light our candles, is it not a gathering? a gathering at a river? On our way to a feast? A feast provided by this God who chooses to dwell with us?
We begin with God. The creator of all things. We end with God. Our beginning and our end. The Alpha and the Omega. To know our beginnings and to know our ends. It changes the way we live each day. Even in tribulation, we can imagine a time when we will say: Fear? No more. Hunger? No more. Poverty? No more.
“Then I saw a new heaven and earth, for the first earth and heaven had passed away…And the One who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new! I am the Alpha, the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water. Death and mourning, crying and pain, shall be no more.” Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come.”