Friday, November 02, 2012

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day, Día de los Muertos)

Día de los Difuntos

This is my bog-standard All Souls' Day sermon

Today we are celebrating All Souls Day the day in which we commemorate those who have passed on. It is really an extension of All Saints Day which we celebrated yesterday. It's an extension of All Saints Day because all Christians are considered saints but some people consider some saint to be more holy than others, and they had trouble with the idea of commemorating holy martyrs such as Perpetua and Felicitas on the same day as they remembered their Uncle Fred, so now we have All Souls Day as the day to commemorate "lesser" saints like Uncle Fred. It is important to remember the saints like our Aunts and Uncles just as much as it is to remember James of Jerusalem, Polycarp of Smyrna, Thecla and Blandina, because the saints we know and have seen everyday can be even better examples for us of how God wants us to live. The saints who are members of our families and neighborhoods can be the examples which brought us to the point where we decided to follow Christ and God's way instead of our own way. We sang "I Sing A Song Of The Saints Of God" because of that third verse:
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too!

I can think of several saints, departed and living, who influenced me. My grandfather was a minister in the Assemblies of God church and he was a missionary in China and the Philippine Islands. He and his family were captured by the Japanese during WWII and although he was tortured he never lost his faith. He was well educated, which was unusual for pastors in his church, and his example was a great model for me. I studied both Hebrew and Greek in seminary because he had done so (I was terrible in Hebrew). When I was an acolyte at Sukiran Chapel in Okinawa and was first introduced to the Episcopal Church, Chaplain Bennett was a great influence on me. He showed me that one could approach God and religion from an intellectual standpoint and he gave me a love for beautiful liturgy. My mentor, the Rev. Eckford deKay, former Rector of St. Francis' Church in San José, California, took me under his wing when I began to consider ordination, and he told me to join the Vestry and become a delegate to Diocesan Convention. He said that if I still wanted to be a priest after Vestry and Convention he'd take me to see the bishop, and as a result of his advice I was much less naïve and idealistic about Church politics than my classmates in seminary. All my professors in seminary were great influences on me, but the Rev. Dr. Jon Kater was quite instrumental in my coming to Panamá, and it was Bishop Hayes who convinced me that this was where I should be. My friend Elizabeth Leigh helped me understand the importance of the environment and our duty to be good stewards of this earth, and Janet Levi taught me patience and the importance of being true to one's art. So that's two living saints and five who have joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses who have influenced me and brought me to where I am now.

I'll bet everyone in this room can name several people, family members and friends and teachers and even clergy, who have influenced them and encouraged them in their spiritual journey, and all these people are saints, because a saint is someone whose life is an example and model. We don't pray to the saints; we know that they were human beings just like us, but they are people who are examples of what is possible when we let God control our lives. Saints are not without sin; many saints, both great and lesser, lived less than perfect lives at one time, but all of them came to the point where they were able to surrender themselves to God's will and live the life that God wanted of them, and that is why their lives were beacons to us all. They were able to be vulnerable enough so that God could work through them; they were able to be transparent enough so that God's light would shine through them, and that we would be attracted to their examples. And just as these people were examples to us, we, everyone in this room, is an example to someone else! Whether you like it or not, as a Christian, you, too, are a saint, and the way you are living your life is an example to someone. Those moments when you are vulnerable enough to let God work through you, those moments when you are transparent enough to let God shine through you, you become an example of the Christian life to someone else.

You are a Christian, you are a saint, those moments when you can surrender yourself to God's will are the moments when you are a beacon to those who are lost. Those who have passed on, those who have departed this world, have been great influences on our lives, and it is important to remember them. I grew up on Okinawa, and the local religion there is much like the Shinto religion of Japan. In Japan, China, and Okinawa, the Cult of the Ancestors is very important. Some believe that one's ancestors keep looking out for those in this world, and that it is important to honor one's ancestors. One way the ancestors are honored is by remembering them, and most homes in Okinawa have a family altar, and on that altar is a lacquerware plaque with the names of all the departed family members, going all the way back to the first member of the family. On the festival of Obon, it is believed that the ancestors return to this world to visit, and the names of all the ancestors are read as a means of remembering them. We will be doing something similar in a few minutes, when I read the necrology, or list of the Faithful Departed. And when you hear the name of a family member read aloud, you will remember them, and they will come alive again in your memory, if only for a few seconds. This is one type of immortality.

So, I am going to read the names of the Faithful Departed, a list of over 700 names. We've just gone though a tough month, losing five members in just two weeks, and their names are included on this list. While the names are being read, I ask you to sit quietly in contemplation, in reflection. Think of those who have gone on before. Think of those whose names you recognize, and think of how thy influenced your life. Think about those everyday saints who helped bring you to where you are now, and I want you to think of how wonderful it will be on the Last Day when we are all reunited and we join them around the Banquet Table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

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