Tag Archives: mourning

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1-2: So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.  Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.

harvested fieldIn churches around the world, on All Saints’ Sunday, the names of the dead are read.  Bells are tolled.  Portraits are shown.  Years of birth and death are printed.  Candles are lit.  Songs are sung.  This is the day that all saints are remembered.  The saints of the Church are remembered, and their names are spoken.

At the eve of winter, before the Advent season has begun, as the leaves are dried and fallen, and the fields lay bare, we celebrate all the saints.  At the eve of winter, when the wind feels a little stronger, and the grass starts each morning with a glistening sheet of frost, we look into the face of death.  The winter is coming.  The temperature will continue to drop.  The night will get longer.  In the midst of this changing season, we pause.  We stand.  We face the cold winter wind and in defiance, we speak the names of those we have lost.

We stand and face the coming reality.  In the midst of life, we are surrounded by death.  We stand together facing the twin realities that we have all lost someone, and that we all face the same end.

In a culture hungry for immortality, we come together on All Saints Day and proclaim the good news that all will die.  Everywhere you look, there are those avoiding death.  Vampire and Zombie stories are insanely popular.  What is their common theme?  They revolve around the ability to cheat death.  All around, there are schemes – plans, pills, and procedures – to avoid aging.  Is there any stranger relationship we have in our culture than we have with aging? I cannot think of anything people try so hard to at the same time do and avoid.  So we mock a celebrity for getting saggy arms, or wrinkles on their face; and then we mock them for having plastic surgery.

On All Saints’ Day we can come together and acknowledge our own mortality.  And we name those we mourn. We say the words, and there is a physical response.  There is a release when we speak the name of those that have died.  So often, we hold in our memories and emotions.  We keep them bottled up, and often forgotten.  We’ve been told over the last year – or longer – that we should be “over it.”  It is doubtful anyone actually said the words, “get over it,” to someone who is mourning.  We hear it nonetheless.  We hear it from life that goes on.  We hear it from routines that settle back in.  We hear it in empty chairs that are never filled, phones that no longer ring, and arms that no longer embrace.  And so we get over it.  We move on, but never quite the same again.  When we speak the name, it is a chance to stop pretending.  Stop pretending that we have “gotten over it.”

Speaking the name is a chance look at death and say, “I will not forget.  She will not die.”  Death is no less a reality when we speak the name of those that we mourn, but when we gather for worship in the midst of death, we know that it does not have the final say.  We continue to run the race that is laid out in front of us because we know we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  The death of a mortal body that falls to the ground is no more the end of  life than the death of a seed that falls from a tree.

So we gather, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses.  We gather, surrounded by the saints of Christ.  We gather, singing the songs of the ages and reading the words of hope and healing.  We gather, praying to the Spirit that lives in us all, surrounds us, strengthens us, and empowers us.  We gather in the midst of life, and yet surrounded by death.  We gather and face the cold wind, and we are warmed by the hope of resurrection.  We are warmed by love that is eternal.  We are warmed by the assurance that nothing may separate us from the love we share in Christ.

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The Longest Night

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposd to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen everyday that God did not plan. I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

Liturgy for a worship service “For those that mourn at Christmas”

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