It is an uprooting experience when we lose someone we love. Death comes suddenly, traumatically, with an accident, or for no particular reason. Sometimes death comes peacefully by the bedside; expected in some ways, with comfort care and family around, with massaging feet and peaceful music. Death comes as a comfort for those who have lived a long life- but still, it is uprooting when we lose someone we love, even if we are expecting it.
When we lose someone we love, it is important to remember to eat, to remember to do normal human things. Because death uproots. When we lose someone we love, who was part of how we understood ourselves, we know that an essential part of us has died along with this person.
When death comes, sometimes we feel guilty. We should have called more, we should have been kinder, we should have dropped everything to be there for every moment of their life. I should have know death was going to come in this way- I could have done something to prevent it. Sometimes we feel relief, then we feel guilty about that.
And then we get angry, at God, and the world, at ourselves; why would a loving God allow for this devastating fate? Does God cause death, if God is powerful at all, why wouldn’t God have stepped in? There is no right way to grieve, no proper order or right amount of tears or timeline or road map.
Sometimes in grief we draw closer to God, because the mystery of life and death is too big to comprehend alone or make sense of alone. Any certain images about life after death wash away in the face of God’s infinite love, God’s infinite wisdom and compassion. As the letter to Roman’s says, “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” In times of grief we don’t know how to pray, God’s spirit is with us in our sighing.
Death can uproot us. And today we root ourselves in the reality that life goes on after death. That Jesus promises eternal life, and even if we have witnessed a physical death, we believe together in eternal life through Jesus Christ- that our life will be transformed, will continue. Today as we celebrate the communion of saints, we believe together, that the ones we love are with God, and someday we will be too. Today we suspend disbelief and doubt and certainty and say together that we have faith that life continues, that heaven exits, that the ones we have lost have a sense of peace and comfort beyond our understanding. And today, we celebrate the communion of saints, where we imagine that we can call on all the ones we have lost, all the spirits who have our highest good in mind, to come into this space and share in an eternal meal with us.
Who have you lost, who are you calling on to be with you today? During the prayers in a moment we will have an opportunity to lift up some names. But let me first tell you a story- about woman I know, who is struggling with the loss of a close friend who was only 30 years old. It is her first brush with death out of its time. Her friend died in the springtime of her life- she was too young. And this woman I know is a strong Christian- and everyone else she has lost have also been Christian, like her grandparents, where she has said with comfort, “suffering has now ended, they are with Jesus now.” They can sing the familiar hymns and say prayers perform and read scriptures, a cultural language that- even if we don’t believe every word, helps us collectively enter into grief.
But her friend who died wasn’t Christian, and because of some of the scary verses about afterlife in the Bible, this woman was afraid that her friend might not be in heaven, but wandering a barren landscape having not accepted Jesus. She rationally knows there are many paths to God, that there is not one true religion, but she can’t help her mind from going there. Where is my friend? Should I have tried to introduce her to Jesus? Is it my fault she is not in heaven? She was a good person, full of beauty and goodness. Doesn’t that get her to heaven? She didn’t know.
So she went to a wise elder in her church with this fear, and they told her—“Beloved, God’s love isn’t small. It is not for us to determined where God’s love and salvation ends. God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ extend to all people. All people are worthy of grace- your friend is loved and with God.” They said, “I hear you trying to say that maybe because she was a good person, she must be with Jesus? Honey,” they said, “you don’t even have to be a good person all the time for God to love you- that’s how big God’s love is. Your friend is in heaven.”
This realization rooted this woman in God’s love again. She felt the presence of God embrace her in her questioning, her doubt, in her fear, in her sighing, in her pain and sadness. She rooted in the love of God, and she was brought to question in her own life, “God, why am I on this earth? What is my purpose?” Sometimes it takes a brush with death to ask ourselves this questions- why do we exist? What is our purpose here?
Likewise, as we remember all saints day, all the people in our own lives and in this church who have lived and died in the Lord, we remember to root ourselves in our own purpose in life and with God. To leave this world a more loving place than we found it. To inch and nudge the world toward beauty and understanding. To find the way our particular gifts as individuals and as a community meet the needs of the world, or as Frederick Buechner wrote, ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Root to rise, as they say in yoga. As we remember those we have loved and lost today, let their memory inspire us to live lives of purpose, so that we on our death beds or at our own funerals, can hear the words, “Release this your child from all fear, from the constraints of life’s faults, that they may breathe their last in the peace of your words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your God. We ask this through Jesus Christ our savior.”
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And if you haven’t heard these words yet- if any spirits in here have not heard these words, I say now, well done, faithful servant. Release yourself from the constraints of life’s faults.
Fall is a time of transition and change- the leaves become beautiful and then they die, they fall to the ground. If you stand quietly in the forest you can hear each leave fall to the forest floor. Celtic spiritualties say that veil is thin this time of year. The veil between the spiritual world and the physical world, the veil between the living and the dead becomes more porous, more malleable, dissolves this time of year, and it is important become grounded. The cycles of the season, of life and death, give us a rhythm to root into. Let us root to rise. Amen.