All Saints, Year B
Isaiah 25:6-9 † Psalm 24 † Revelation 21:1-6a † John 11:32-44
You can view a video of the service and sermon here.
It took me about two minutes the other day to remember the name for these. I could see them in my mind’s eye, and I knew they were in the fridge right next to me, but I was determined to flex those memory muscles and work past this mind block. Every time the words came close to my consciousness, stupid broccoli kept getting in the way.
Bru, bru, bru…broccoli.
Finally, I got it! I conquered!
“Brussel sprouts!” I shouted to Barb who I suspect, by that point, was looking a bit anxious. It was almost as if I had to look out of the periphery of my brain to do it, but I prevailed!
I did it!
Our minds, you see, are not like computers. Computers forget nothing. We do. Well, I certainly do!
Sometimes we are unable to remember things. Sometimes we choose to forget. What we forget about ourselves and about others may be as important as what we choose to remember.
I think about this on a day like today that is all about remembering. It is a complicated thing, isn’t it, memory? In a little while we will light candles for those we choose today to remember, for those who have gone before us. We will remember with gratitude, with sadness. Our emotions, rightly, will be close to the surface, as Jesus’ are in our gospel reading.
But there’s more, isn’t there? I heard from someone the other day a little more of their own family story, and it was not pretty. It was filled with pain, with hurt, with gaslighting and rejection that had very little to do with my friend and more to do with injuries that are passed on from one generation to the next in our family systems and in our national life together.
Those who will be represented and remembered by the burning candles we will light in a few minutes, those saints were sinners too—sometimes quite accomplished ones—and the work of today is to bring the fullness of these truths, these people, these stories to the redeeming presence of God’s Spirit here today.
Our minds are not computers. A better metaphor, I suspect, is that they are biased curators of our memory. I think the prophet Isaiah is hinting at something of the same thing in singing of this God who will swallow up death forever. Isaiah imagines God as a burning presence that leans us toward life. So we have Isaiah imagining a future in which God will wipe away our tears and replace our disgrace with wholeness.[i]
To imagine a legacy is not to forget or obscure or misshape the past. It is not an invitation to tell ourselves more lies. If our walk with Job over the last four weeks has taught us anything, it is that we forget our suffering, and particularly the suffering we cause, at our peril.
We have a better option. We can choose to curate our memories. We can construct our stories together in ways that will bless the future that comes to us, that will serve the good news of God’s salvation, that will bring forth the Kingdom of God. With all that we are given—the good and the bad together, we can choose to curate hope.
Take the gospel of John as another example. While no one knows for sure who authored any of the gospels, there are some scholars who have imagined that our friend Lazarus is in fact the author of the Gospel of John. It is an intriguing idea that speaks to the lessons of All Saints—that Lazarus’ experience was so transformed by Jesus, that he understood his whole history, his whole identity to be re-shaped around this story. Even though he would once again die, he was, in fact, reborn.
Our imagination, our creativity, these are some of the most important tools of the mind and the heart that we possess in this enterprise of being church. They teach us that we can be more than we have been, that we can be more than we imagine as we follow the way of the Creative One. We are able, with this Spirit of Life within us, to create who we are and to curate the future: to see, as the writer of Revelation sees, God’s new heaven and new earth.
Thanks be to God!
[i] Isaiah 25:8.
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