Saturday, November 28, 2009

God, Life, and Everything - Giving Thanks

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

I had a note from a Canadian friend recently who said, “You know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful we already had OUR Thanksgiving in October so we can work off all the food in time for Christmas.” Yes, Canadians stuff themselves silly with turkey, too.

It is sometimes easy for me to forget that Canada even has a Thanksgiving Day, let alone that they do it on the wrong day. Everyone knows the Pilgrims invented Thanksgiving in 1621 and decided it should be the fourth Thursday in November, right? Well, of course not.  

Actually, there’s nothing inherently American about Thanksgiving. Countries around the world have celebrated a day to give thanks to God for the harvest for centuries. After all, the harvest is what it’s all about. In German, they call it Erntedankfest which is roughly translated to “Festival of Thanks for the Harvest.”

The reason all these peoples and places have this feast in the first place is that the harvest meant survival for them (well, for those who lived in colder climates where winter made growing difficult or impossible). It was a way of saying, “Thanks for giving us what we need to make it through the lean times.”

Some might say that we are living in lean times these days. Well, the Pilgrims or other subsistence farmers might disagree. They might point out that strictly speaking, even those of us unfortunate enough to lose our jobs will probably not starve to death. We live in a country where many other things are challenging or just plain wrong, but at that most basic level, it’s not going to be lack of food that will kill us.

It’ll probably be the deer running across the highway. (See last week).
So, the harvest does not really play as big a role in our thanksgiving as it once did. We are mostly urban folks who don’t get where food comes from. We see meat and think it grows wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. We look at vegetables and forget that they don’t come in frozen plastic bags.  

And while we might lament how far removed we are from the food chain these days, the fact that among our many worries, starving is not one of them should be reason enough to give thanks to God.

Now, I know Thanksgiving is full of traditions. Unlike the Germans who just go to church for Thanksgiving, we Americans tend to gather from all corners and have a big family gathering where we see who can eat the most before popping. Then we watch giant men carrying a little football ram into each other in an effort to make the other ones pop.  

One of Hyde Park’s traditions has always been to have a Thanksgiving Eve ecumenical service, always at a different church in town. Because of a lot of little things blended with difficult scheduling, the local pastors decided we could not have the service this year. Which is too bad because this service is great reminder that Thanksgiving is more than turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. It is about appreciating how graced we are to be allowed another year on this earth.

But you know what? You don’t have to have a special service to give thanks. You don’t even need to have a special day. God breathes life into each of anew every day, gives us what we need to do what we need that day. In short, every day is good for giving thanks.

So, whether you’re in Canada or Germany or the USA (or anywhere else on earth), Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Famous Last Words - A Sermon

If you could choose your last words in this life what would they be?  I know, it’s not even Lent, and I’m talking about mortality.  But the lessons today are about last words, and you can learn a lot about a person from their last words, so let’s look at a few, and maybe you can think about what you might say in those last moments.

Jeff Foxworthy, of “You might be a redneck” fame, tells us that many a redneck have uttered the same last words:  “Hey ya’ll,watch this!”

During the Civil War, General John Sedgwick’s last words were, “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. . . .”

Poet Dylan Thomas boasted just before he died, 

“I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies... I think that’s a record!”

John Adams -- not that he was being foolish -- said as he lay dying, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”  Jefferson had died earlier in the day.

And just for fun, Oscar Wilde’s last words were said to be, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

Given that today is the Last Day of Pentecost AND the Feast of Christ the King, it might do to look at one or two last words of kings.  For instance, here’s the infamous Caligula of Rome after his guards stabbed him:  “Ha! I am still alive!” 

And King Louis XVIII of France: “A King should die standing.”

And our dear Queen Elizabeth I sadly says:  “All my possessions for a moment of time.”

We could go on, but the point of this is that King David and Jesus give last words (or nearly last words) in our lessons today, and being lessons, they have something to teach us.  What does David say?

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?”

Essentially, this is a psalm, which is pretty impressive for someone on his deathbed.  To be fair to David, he is acknowledging God in his words.  But to be honest, like many a human king, he’s even more praising his own greatness.   He, David, is “like the light of the morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”  Everything his house does forever will prosper while his enemies go down in flames.

Aside from the fact that David didn’t always rule justly, being guilty of adultery and murder, we also know that his everlasting kingdom did not last past the next two generations.

Like so many famous last words, although they contained some truth, they were also wrong in a big way.

But there’s another king whose last words teach us.  Jesus, says, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 

Now, you might say, “Hey, those aren’t Jesus’ LAST words.  True.  His last words, from the cross were: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (LUKE)

But wait!  You could also say that his last words -- after the resurrection were: “Go into all the world baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world.”

THIS is the King we follow, the King we obey.  A king who does not praise his own shaky righteousness but one who knows he is here to proclaim truth, that his Kingdom is not here.  One who forgives, who commands us to bring Good News to the world, and promises to be with us always.  In other words, OUR king is one who gives himself and calls on his people to give of themselves.

In this Stewardship season, a season all about giving of ourselves, it’s good to remember whom we follow, and that we are called to be like Jesus.  This is a time when we celebrate our own giving of self but also our call not only to be GIVING but FORGIVING.  It is when we remember that part of giving is SHARING our stories of faith -- bringing the Good News of Christ to others, witnessing.

The Last Words of Christ -- well, ALL of the different last words of Christ -- give us our direction for life in this world.  One, remember that our kingdom is not here but with Christ, so do not cling to the things of this world.  Two, Forgive those who harm you, for in doing so, you free yourself.  Three, Give of yourself in every way, serving those in need and witnessing with your life the love of God.

Those Last Words of Christ say a lot about him - and us, his people.  Which brings us back to that first question.  Knowing who you are, knowing who your King is, if you could choose them, what would YOUR last words be?  Amen.

God, Life, and Everything - Deer Hit

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

November hasn’t been my month for machines.  Early in the month my laptop died, leaving me to use a slow but living back up.  That is annoying and inconvenient.

But Friday before last I hit a deer with my car.  If you’ve ever had the experience, you know it’s a miserable business.  My car (yes, my little black and yellow smart car), suffered some damage which is being taken care of as I write,  The deer, I’m sad to say, did not survive.

On the other hand, I walked away without a scratch, for which I am eternally grateful.  Something else I’m grateful for are the words, “Are you all right?”  Within seconds of hitting the deer and pulling off to the side of the road, some bystanders stopped to ask, “Are you all right?”  They then helped pull the deer off the road so it wouldn’t cause another accident.  

Next, a trooper pulled up behind me, lights flashing.  It’s the first time I was glad to see flashing lights behind me.  And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first things he asked was, “Are you all right?”  He checked out the car to see if it was safe to drive home, but more importantly checked to see if I was okay to do the driving.  

Even the insurance company representative asked those four welcome words before anything else.  “Are you all right?” she asked, “I am so sorry you had to go through that.”  You know what?  I think she meant it sincerely, and not merely her company was going to be paying out some money.

Here’s the thing I did not expect.  It felt good.  Each time someone asked, it felt like they cared what happened to me.  It felt like people do care what happens to each other.  Sometimes that’s not our experience, is it?  Sometimes it feels like a cold and hard world.  Maybe it’s a question we need to ask each other more often.  

I have noticed that sometimes when we run into hard times - sickness, job stress, relationships in trouble - we avoid each other.  It’s almost as if we are afraid someone will ask, “Are you all right?”  I’ve also noticed that we are afraid to ask those four simple words, afraid to open a can of worms, afraid the person we ask might actually say, “No, I’m not all right!”  

Let’s overcome those fears, because from personal experience, those words have healing power all their own.  Even if I lie and say, “Oh yeah, everything’s fine,” when everything isn’t fine -- being asked helps.  Whether we go to the same church, belong to the same religion or don’t believe in God at all, we are all a community, and community means looking out for each other.

So, are you all right?

Tables Turned - A Sermon

Have you ever noticed how quickly the tables are turned on us in so many ways?  One day we live with one set of rules or in one reality -- the next moment things are totally different.

Most of you know last week, I was on my way from one nursing home visit to another when I hit a deer.  In one instant, the course of the day changed entirely.  I was remarkably lucky - for some an accident changes the course of their lives forever.  There is a man at one of the area nursing homes who has been there since his 30s - unable to feed himself and barely able to communicate - all the result of an accident.

I know another man who had a job and a family until he was arrested for robbery and sentenced.  After a few years in prison, they found the real guilty person and he was absolved.  But by then, his wife had divorced him and now he can’t find stable work.  

This is the way of the world, isn’t it?  Nothing is eternal or cast in stone.  Not buildings, nor our fortunes - nor even our impressions of the world.  They can all change.

Certainly, as Jesus points out in the gospel today, even the greatest and grandest can disappear in the blink of an eye.  The temple?  Huge beyond comprehension (at least for them), yet “not one stone will be left upon another.  All will be thrown down.”  He goes on to say that there will be hucksters who come after him -- claiming to be him and sounding convincing -- but their messages will be found to be empty.

Not that tables are always turned for the worse.  Hannah had a loving husband, but Elkanah wasn’t really all that bright.  He could not see how much she suffered from the taunts of his other wife Perinnah, about Hannah’s inability to have children.  Hannah wasn’t necessarily old, but it doesn’t take that many years of harassment for life to become unbearable.

Hannah’s fortunes change over night.  Once she prays, and Eli realizes she is not drunk as she appears, she gets her wish.  Not only is she Elkanah’s favorite wife, but she has a son.  She is, as it were, on top of her world.

And in the same way, more than once people I know have discovered that their hearts which they once thought were dead have a spark of life after all.  They have found that where they thought they could never forgive, now they can forgive -- and are given back their lives in that moment.

But what do these stories really tell us?  that the world is an unstable place? 

It tells us that ours is a religion of tables turned where all is not as it seems, where what looks like a dead certainty turns out to be the exact opposite, where expectations are regularly dashed, where fortunes can turn on a dime.  Where nothing is written in stone and an assumed course is not the guaranteed course.  

Where sin is forgiven and (as the author of Hebrews reminds us) the need for sacrifice simply goes away...  We are accepted -- just like that.

In short, ours is a religion based in reality.  Whether you believe in god or not, you cannot declare anything a done deal.  In the immortal words of Yogi Bera, it ain’t over till it’s over.  Sometimes our joy is interrupted.  Sometimes Grace breaks in where there was only darkness.  

The lesson is that outcomes are not what we are about.  It is to hold lightly to our accomplishments, to those things like the temple that impress us or that we’re proud of.  But also to have a light hold on those things that OPPRESS us.  They will not be there forever either.

Does that mean we lie around waiting for things to happen -- and then unhappen again, and that it doesn’t matter what we do because it’s all ever-changing?  That would be like asking, “Is there a point to life since we all die anyway?”

The fact that we cannot force or even predict where things are going does not mean we aren’t to be involved.  It only means that results are not our ultimate goal.  More important is the living that happens, the love that is shared, the effort to reach out to others.  

Giving, loving, forgiving.  Tables are often turned, and we can rarely predict how things will turn out.  So, hold lightly to results because they may be upended.

But hold tightly to one thing: God’s presence and love.  Not only is it written in unchangeable stone.  It is written in our hearts.

God, Life, and Everything - Robocall

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and I want to say “Thank you for your service” to every veteran. I’d also like to wish them a peace-filled day.  They deserve it.


But there is another event in American civic life that affects us and came into focus last week.  I am of course talking about that hallowed American right called voting.  Or, to be precise, the robocalls that afflict us the night before elections.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to receive those annoying calls with recorded voices that tell you whom to vote for.


No one really knows how long robocalls have been around, but the federal government has regulated of them since 1991.  As far as I’m concerned, they haven’t regulated them enough.  Regulating them out of existence might be enough.  Last week I slammed down the phone after the fiftieth such call and said, “The next one who calls me, I’m voting for their opponent!”


Instead, I just hang up the moment that blasted recorded voice starts with its shtick:  “Hello, I’m Joe Candidate.  Are you tired of the other party ruining our country, your life, and the very essence of humanity?  Then vote for me tomorrow!”  They lost me at “Hello.”


My friends say the same thing.  They hate the calls and hang up.  Which makes me wonder, if everyone hates them, why do candidates bother?


The answer?  Because some of us are lying.  Some of us DO listen to them.  And we believe them.  In 2008 seven candidates pledged to respect the Do Not Call list (political robocalls don’t have to pay attention to the federal Do Not Call list -- they can call you on either your home or cell phone if they want.  Regular annoying telemarketers cannot).  Only one of them was elected.  Candidates with widespread robocalls won.  Robocalls work.




If they work for candidates, maybe they could work for the church, too.  Granted, the church would have a smaller list of people to call upon, but who could resist being greeted on their phone by angelic music and a message of hope?  Just imagine:  “Hello, I’m Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  Are you tired of the [Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians -- pick your favorite religious entity] ruining our faith, your life, and the very essence of divinity?  Then come to the Anglicans!”  


Heck, you could localize it for special events in your church.  “Hello, I’m Pastor Bob of Bob’s Church down the road.  Are you tired of church craft fairs that don’t sell what you want, ruining your shopping experience and the very essence of the church fundraiser?  Then come to our Fall Craft Fair tomorrow!”


I am sure these things could bring more people to church or at least our youth group car washes.  Still, something about the very concept bothers me.  Perhaps it’s the invasive quality, like a door-to-door salesman barging into your home.  Perhaps it’s the unwanted nature of the calls.  To the best of my recollection, Jesus never forced himself on anyone who did not want to talk to him -- demons excepted.  


Jesus attracted people by being himself and speaking words of hope to those who longed for them and healing those who sought it.


So maybe this sort of intrusive self-promotion is best left to the self-promotion crowd -- telemarketers and politicians.  In the end, the churches can do the work they are here to do without robocalls.  Besides, I’d never be able to figure out the technology.

God, Life, and Everything - Quiet Day

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Thursday was my no good, terrible, rotten, very bad day.  I woke up not feeling well, then went to my computer -- which had worked perfectly the night before -- and turned it on to find it blank and lifeless.  


In the course of the day, I had run unexpected errands, dealt with some extremely unpleasant phone calls and in the middle of trying to get rest while still working on the computer, unfairly took it all out on my kid who had the misfortune of asking me an annoying question at just the wrong time.  Most of that day, I curled up into a ball on my sofa and slept or tried to make the world go away.


You get days like that -- or at least I do from time to time.  And while we all made up at the end of the day, the computer is still dead (I’m using a borrowed one), and I was left drained and washed out.


To my good fortune, however, the very next day help arrived in the form of a Clergy Quiet Day.  Clergy Quiet Days are times set aside at the local monastery for the priests of the region to pray, study and chat together and then to have quiet time to reflect by ourselves.  


They are a time for us to refocus on who we are, what our ministries are, and why we do them.  More than anything else, though, they are a time to rest.  As the name implies, the best thing about them is simply being quiet.


When you’ve had one of those soul-frying days, this is the balm indeed.  


I arrived at the monastery and walked down its winding path to the main house, its sloping lawn leading down to the river.  Across the river, I could see our side.  There was the Vanderbilt Estate buried in autumn color.  Distant church bells rang, and I realized it was our own church here in Hyde Park.


The brothers in their white habits chatted casually as we sipped coffee, but when time came for us to meet in our group, they slipped into the woodwork.  During our first meditation break, the leader encouraged us to reflect or, if it was what we needed, to fall asleep.  I did.


We broke again for worship, which in a monastery consists of chanting prayers, chanting the psalms, lots of silence and a chanted blessing.  By the end of the day, I was ready to get back in the saddle.  Quiet days are a Godsend in the truest sense of the word.


The secret is, they are not reserved for priests alone.  In many religious traditions there are places set apart for just this sort time apart.  There are monasteries and convents in rich supply on both sides of the river around here, and most of them have opportunities for pretty much anyone to make use of their hospitality.  


Often they have formal quiet days or retreats, and just as often they have room for people to come as individuals who just want to get away.  Is a quiet day for you?  Don’t know.  But if you’ve had a no good, terrible, rotten, very bad day, you might want to look into it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

“Jesus Wept” - A Sermon

On November 1, we had a guest preacher at St. James'.  Luanne Panarotti, an aspirant to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church, preached on the raising of Lazarus.

My name is Luanne, and I am a weeper.  I come by it honestly, perhaps genetically; my mother was a weeper, too.  She was, in all other ways, a pretty feisty bird; but, she had a sentimental streak that ran deep and wide, and that caused her to well up at some of the most unusual things. 

I can remember an evening long ago, sitting in our living room, watching the Miss America Pageant.  I was curled up in the armchair, my mother was on the couch, and Bert Parks was singing, as the winning beauty, be-sashed and tiara-ed, began her tearful teeter down the runway.  I looked over at my mother and saw her – face puffy, lips quivering, eyes brimming over – trying to hide behind a throw pillow, and I thought, “What on earth is the matter with her?”   Now, some forty years later, I cry over happy movies, old songs, Hallmark commercials, Project Runway dismissals, mailings from colleges, every time I watch Cedric Diggory die in Harry Potter IV, bunny rabbits, tiny shoes, certain shades of pink – well, you get the idea: it doesn't take much.


Jesus was not a weeper.  He was often deeply moved.  He was sometimes greatly troubled.  He, on occasion, cried out.  But he rarely wept.  In fact, Jesus weeps on only two occasions in the gospels.  In the 19th chapter of Luke, upon his triumphant arrival at Jerusalem, Jesus weeps over the city that would welcome him that day, and turn on him the next.  He weeps again in today's passage from the gospel of John, the well-known story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  In the King James Version and other translations, it is the shortest verse in the bible – just two words, “Jesus wept.” – and yet it is so incredibly laden with meaning. 

For one thing, it makes a potent theological point.  This gospel was most likely written at the end of the first century, when the whole notion of Christianity was still in a state of definition and flux.  There were heresies afoot, unorthodox ways of thinking that threatened to tear apart the fledgling community of Christ; one such doctrine, was Docetism.  Now, Docetists believed in Jesus' divinity, but not necessarily in his humanity.  They thought that spirit was good and matter was bad, and it wasn't particularly becoming for God to get all tangled up in the messiness of the flesh.  They suggested that perhaps Jesus only seemed to have a real human body, but was more of a phantom; that his suffering and his crucifixion were merely appearance.  Needless to say, this way of thinking undermined the idea of Christ's physical sacrifice on our behalf, and the ability of fleshy humanity to share in his resurrection.   So, this simple statement – Jesus wept –  is really quite profound.  Through it, the author of the gospel is saying no, Jesus was a real man; he ate and drank and shed real blood – and see, he cried real tears.

But I can't help but wonder, why cry now?  Jesus certainly had ample opportunity for sadness and frustration in his lifetime.  Starving in the desert.  Misunderstood and rejected by his own people.  Tortured.  More than enough to bring any of us to our knees, let alone to tears.  Why cry now, over a man he knew he was about to bring back to life?  

Compassion is often given as the answer: Jesus wept at the sight of the others mourning.  Of course, it's our understanding that Jesus was regularly faced with a procession of lepers, paralytics, the blind, the possessed, the sick, the dying; surely he would have been moved to tears by their plight, but the gospels never state that he lost his composure.  Other Bible commentators suggest that Jesus wept from sorrow over the lack of belief of those closest to him: even his friends and followers didn't appreciate the full extent of his power, didn't believe that he could raise Lazarus from the dead.  Well, if that were the case, Jesus would have been weeping all the time because he was rarely appreciated for whom he really was, by anyone – friends, family, religious leaders, the entire Hebrew people who had been waiting for him for generations.  In fact, the only ones who seem to consistently recognize Jesus in the gospels were the demons he cast out of the possessed. 

So it seems Jesus did not weep over his own hunger, his lack of social stature, the fact that he was so misunderstood.  He did not weep at his own physical suffering, nor even at that of those around him – though in his compassion he did heal them.  What is it then that moved him in this instance?  What does this passage tell us about what makes Jesus tick? 

I think it says something about what Jesus values – and it's not personal comfort or gain or notoriety, all the things that usually define success in our society.  No, above all, Jesus values relationship.  He was built for it.  It was knit into his bones when he was made man, and it infused his very soul as a member of the blessed Trinity.  He comes from community, he is community: relationship is what makes him complete.  And he left that heavenly love-fest to invite us to join it, to seek that same completion in communion with God, and to do it in communion with one another.  So when we do not, like Jerusalem turning her back on relationship with Christ, and when we cannot, because death has come between us and those we love, Jesus weeps.  For our loss, and for his. 

So, what can we discern from this passage, for our own lives?  The first thing that comes to mind is that it tells us something about how to be in relationship with those who are mourning.  Humans are so uncomfortable with death; we often don't know what to do or what to say in the face of it. Unfortunately, I think our Christianity can even get in the way of our humanity when dealing with those who are mourning.  Sometimes in our effort to affirm our belief in the life to come, we can find ourselves diminishing the significance of lives lived here.  

We try to comfort the bereaved by saying things like “He's in heaven now”, “She's in a better place” or my favorite, the one someone recently told friends of mine who were mourning a miscarriage, “God knew that the baby would not be viable, so it's a blessing that He took him.”  Those things may all be true, and those of us who believe in the promises made to us by Christ can live in hope that our stories will end well.  But, if this passage about Jesus weeping over Lazarus tells us anything, it is that we must also allow the experience of grief.  It is part of our human existence, to feel pain when relationships are severed, not something to be ashamed of or gotten over because it makes those around us uncomfortable.  There is blessedness and purpose in mourning. 

I had the opportunity to interview for the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, a training program for hospital chaplains.  The supervisor of the program, a Buddhist, posed a scenario for discussion: you are meeting with a family that has just lost a child, and they ask you “Why would God do this to us?”.  I admit, my first inclination was to rush to God's defense: “These unthinkable tragedies of life are not visited upon us by God.  God is there to offer strength and solace when we are facing such unimaginable pain, he mourns with us.”  And she  said to me “You can't answer their question; you're not there to provide answers.  You are there just to be with them for a while, and hold their screams.”  When you find yourself faced with someone in mourning, resist the impulse to defend God, or to offer platitudes.  You may wish to share your most heartfelt belief in Christ's promise to us in the resurrection, but in the end, just be with them, and perhaps weep with them, as Jesus did with Martha and Mary. 

After Jesus wept, he brought Lazarus back to life.  Perhaps, on this All Saints Day, we might also consider following Christ's example in doing some resurrecting.  Now, as much as we might yearn to, we cannot bring back those who have gone on to eternity before us; if that were the case, I would have my mother back on that couch in an instant, even if I did have to watch the Miss America pageant again.  No, we need to leave those saints to enjoy their heavenly feast, until we can join them there. 

But perhaps there are relationships that were once a part of our lives, that have died an untimely death.  Marriages that have wasted away due to neglect or malnourishment.  Family bonds broken by the sickness of addiction.  Friendships that were dealt a death blow by deceit or greed or jealousy. Maybe it has been so long that you can't even remember the cause of death, yet you still are mourning the loss.  Is it possible for you to try and push away that stone?  Can you stand before that tomb and call out to that once-beloved one and try to bring them into relationship with you once again? Do you have the courage to unwrap the cloths of denial and anger and mistrust that have hidden the face of that one from your clear view?  I'm not saying it is an easy thing to do, or even always possible; if that relationship has been mouldering for a while, there may be quite a stench to get past. 

But we have been called by Christ to imitate and participate in the loving community of heaven, and for now, this is the stage upon which we do it.  

On All Saints Day, we remember and celebrate those who have gone before us, and look forward to the time when, as the author of Revelation writes, “God will be with us, and he will wipe every tear from our eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  Until then, let us seek relationship with one another, and with Christ.  Anything less would be a crying shame.