Today, I sing a song of the saints of God. This weekend, many churches throughout Christendom are doing just that, as they celebrate All Saint’s Sunday. This is one of my favorite feast days, when we remember all the saints of God, not just the really well-known saints like St. Francis, but all the lesser saints like you and me.
It is also a Sunday to remember all the saints in our lives who now see God face to face.
The list of the departed just from my own church household is long; there have been many, many loved ones lost this year. “Lost” is a strange term for Christians to use to describe who those who have died; how are they lost if they now play in the presence of God? Haven’t they been found and known in all the glory and love that our God always meant for them to have? And they certainly aren’t forgotten. They are remembered by you and known by God, and today they are remembered by all of us.
I’ve made it my practice for several years now to use All Saint’s as a time to remember the saints in my own life and go through whatever tangible family relics I may have of them.
I have my paternal grandfather’s Bible, which he used to teach Sunday School in Norfolk, Va. Apparently he lost it at church one day and it became part of a pile of books gathering dust. Several years after his death, someone was cleaning out the church basement and found his Bible. They opened it and found written in my grandfather’s strong, clear hand “R.F. Taylor – 9/21/30.” He had been a naval engineer, and you can almost see that in this script.
It is the handwriting of someone used to making straight lines and having everything thing come together for a purpose. At the age of 97, his full purpose as a child of God was revealed at his death when he entered into heaven.
My grandfather was far from perfect. He had a quick temper and could be impatient and demanding. He was a short, stocky man who spent his most of his life around ships and the sea, with the exception of the time he went chasing after Pancho Villa with Gen. Black Jack Pershing.
Despite all of that, it was belief in Jesus that made him a saint, not his saintly behavior. He has been gone a long, long time now, but I remember him today as a saint in my life; someone who illumined the presence of Jesus in my life by his simple, clear faith that looked a lot like his handwriting, bold and clear. And today he is not forgotten.
My grandfather was someone I knew, but I have a relic from someone I never knew, even though I carry part of her name. It’s a book that belonged to my paternal great-aunt, Nana Atlee Young. This little volume is nearly 100 years old and is called a chap book. For years I didn’t know what a “chap book” was, and then I discovered that it is a record of all the “chaps” my aunt went out with. The preface of this book has this little poem: “Behold herein, all nice and neat, a record of the men I meet. Among them all, perhaps there be – who knows – the not, impossible he.”
My great-aunt Nana went to college but apparently she was there to meet the “impossible he.” From what I understand she didn’t graduate and I’m not surprised. When did she have the time? Nearly every day is filled with some entry of a social gathering with comments on each chap she met.
One of my favorite entries is from June 20, 1916, about a gentleman named Doc Parker. Nana wrote, “For 24 hours, I would almost have been crazy about him.”
Nana didn’t marry any of these chaps. A couple of years after her last entry she contracted typhoid fever and died young, as many people did in those days. I don’t think anyone remembers her now except me – and God – and now you.
You see, a saint of God is never lost, never forgotten. They are part of that great assembly of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. God knows her name and I carry her name. And today she is not forgotten.
The last little relic I have to share with you is a well-worn prayer book that belonged to my maternal grandmother, whom we called Mammie. There is much that I could share with you, but what she would want to share with you is her faith. Her faith in Jesus was her one constant; he was her constant companion.
In going through her prayer book I found bits and pieces of paper containing things that caught her attention. One bit had to have come from an old Reader’s Digest magazine; I recognize the column. It is a list of quotable quotes, and one of them she has marked with a red pen: “You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.”
And that is the question for this All Saint’s Day and all days – how are you going to live? Now.
It wouldn’t do anything to diminish the grief over the death of those we have loved. But how are we to live now? In a perpetual state of grief or a perpetual state of life, embracing the life that Jesus has given us today?
It is not just the death of loved ones we grieve, but the death of dreams or expectations of life. That kind of remembrance sucks the life out of us. And that is not what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to call each of us from the tomb and into the light of life.
Just three weeks ago, my mother died. The grief is profound and singular; many are the days that I feel locked in darkness but then I remember that Jesus came to call each of us to come forth from the grave and claim the life he means for all of us to have. Death does not have the final word – Jesus does.
Who do you remember today? Whose story will you tell? And who will remember you and tell your story? How do you want that story to be told? How do you want that story to end?
You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.
THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.