"From ghoulies and ghosties. And long-leggedy beasties. And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!" It's the eve of All Hallow's Eve--Halloween and a time to remember the words to this old Scottish prayer to protect us from the dark spirits who wish us ill. But Halloween also means that we are on the eve of one of the great feasts days of the Christian calendar--All Saint's Day and remember all the spirits of light and life.
This is one of my favorite celebrations of the whole Christian calendar--a day when we remember all the saints of God, not just the really well know saints like St. Francis but all the lesser saints like you and me. It is also a day to remember all the saints in our lives who now see God face to face. St. Paul, in writing to the people in Ephesus prayed "that they might know what is the hope to which Jesus has called them, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints." Today we get we get to peek behind the darkened veil and see that "glorious inheritance" realized.
The list of the departed just from my own church household is long; there have been many, many loved ones lost this past year. But 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 Saints as a time to remember the saints in my own life and go through whatever tangible family relics I have of them. I have my paternal grandfather's Bible which he used to teach Sunday School in Norfolk, Virginia at Old Donation Church. 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 this Bible. When they opened it they found R.F. Taylor 9/21/30--that's 1930--written in my grandfather's strong, clear hand. He had been a naval engineer and you can almost see that in this script. It is the handwriting of someone used to make 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 most of his life around ships and the sea, with the exception of the time he went chasing after Poncho Villa with General Black Jack Pershing. He's 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 now I hold in my hand a relic from someone I never knew even though I carry part of her name. This book belonged to my paternal great aunt, Nana Atlee Young. This little volume is nearly 100 years old and is called a chap book. It is a record of all the chaps or men my aunt went out with.
Part of it is like reading something from Downton Abbey if it had been set in San Antonio at the turn of the last century. 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 was in college but apparently she was in college to meet the impossible he, she really was there to get her MRS Degree, but those were different times for women. 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 gathering at some fraternity or sorority with comments on each chap. 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." In one of the last entries she writes about one Stanley Marks, whom she met on the roof of the Travis Club. Nana wrote, "When he sang Pretty Baby to me I almost lost my mind."
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 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 this prayer book which belonged to my maternal grandmother whom we called Mammie. It was well used. Mammie was from the Texas border and had a hard life from the start losing both her parents to fever when she and her twin sister were toddlers. There is much that I could share with you of Mammie but what she would want to share with you is her faith. Her faith in Jesus was her one constant and Jesus was her constant companion.
In going through her prayer book I found bits and pieces of paper containing things that caught her attention. This little bit had to have come from an old Reader's Digest magazine; I recognized the column. It is a list of quotable quotes and one of them she has marked with a red pen. It is this quote: 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 Saints Day and all days--how are you going to live? Now. I 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.
In recent years people I deeply love have died. The grief has been profound and singular; many are the days that I've felt 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? And how do you want that story to be told? How do you want that story to end?
We close each service at our church with this benediction: Always remember how short life is and how little time we have to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be quick to love and make haste to be kind. And the rich and abundant blessing of God Almighty be with you always.
Remember. 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. For Christ's sake, how are you going to live now?