‘For we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’. We stand on the shoulders of men and women responsible for 2000 years of Christian history; Christian learning; Christian service and Christian grief. Every year as All Saints Day comes around, I spend time remembering those who have died in these last 12 months. I think about famous people, important people like John McCain, and I think about those I have buried from the church I am blessed to serve, and I think about family. My father died 6 months ago, and we will read his name aloud during the service of remembrance this coming Sunday, along with many others. And so we grieve. And we build.
We build. When we first came across the idea of creating a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ featuring the names of the 380+individuals buried from Holy Cross in the last 35 years, I remember being concerned. Concerned that it might turn us inward, that we might wander into the land of ‘remember when’ so long that we clutched at those memories, rather than seeking the next thing, the next vision God has for our church. We are not a large church. I, as pastor, have buried 37 people in the last 5 years. In a small church, such a list is quite a blow. That means the same people keep doing the tasks of church, counting the donation, trimming the trees, and keeping the boiler working. The big risk is wearing people out. Because when people love their church, and feel the motivation of the Holy Spirit, they show up and help. Sometimes they wear themselves out. Would building a great cloud of witnesses wear them out even more?
Apparently not. People typed in names, chose the perfect paper, consulted others who had previously completed this project in other churches, cut the paper to the right specifications, poked holes, strung fishing line, and rented a scissorlift. It just came together. And when the congregation looked up that Reformation Sunday morning, they were moved.
But, this week we commemorate All Saints Day, where we read the names of this years dead. I think the congregation will look up again at our great cloud of witnesses and feel even more – loss, grief, and comfort, that the people those pieces of paper represent are with God, and so will each of us eventually. So, if our ‘second act’ in heaven is all set for us, what shall we spend our time doing, in our corner of the world, at Holy Cross?
It is my prayer, that in the weeks to come, those names, that great cloud of witnessess, will help us process the grief we are feeling about the evil around us – manifested in the slaughter of innocents in a Pittsburgh synagogue. That it will help us imagine leaving a legacy for the generations to come after us. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit gives us a vision of what’s next – for our church, and community. For our country. I pray for endurance, for imagination. For cultural connections with our neighbors. For people to be fed and housed, and lives changed. Amen.