November 3, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Last Friday, the day after Halloween, was All Saints Day, when the Christian church has historically honored those who have died as witnesses to their faith.
All Saints Day originated sometime in the 4th Century, most likely in Ireland, and was originally celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. During the 800’s the date of the celebration of All Saints was moved to November 1 to be celebrated by the whole church. In the early centuries, there were many thousands of early Christian martyrs, and over the years there have been countless others who have lost their lives as they sought to live out their beliefs. On November 2nd, communities began to commemorate All Soul’s Day as a time to remember all of the faithful departed. This practice may date to the 6th century, so these traditions have a long history. And we know that every culture has its own ways of remembering loved ones who have died.
In the memoir entitled, Lament for a Son, author Nicholas Wolterstorff writes about his journey of loss following the death of his twenty-five-year-old son, Eric, in a mountain climbing accident in Austria. In the book, he speaks about what made his son unique and uses a beautiful word, inscape, to highlight this. The term inscape refers to the unique inner quality of a person. Wolsterstorff writes about the beautiful qualities of his son, about his personality, his desire to explore and take risks, the many things he will miss about this one child, and of course, the pain this causes him. I know that we can all relate to this, that in each loss, something unique and unrepeatable has gone from our lives. Each of us possess unique inner qualities and at a time of loss, we are mindful of the things we will most miss about the one who is now gone from our lives. As you might imagine, Wolsterorff really struggled to understand the loss of his son, taken too soon. While each loss causes different kinds of grief, most people find a great deal more acceptance in the loss of someone who has lived a full life. And yet, even then, we may feel that we still have not had quite enough time with them.
In a wonderful reflection this week by Glenn McDonald, shared with me by Bob Sherman, McDonald writes, “This is a day to remember the people who have gone before us – whose names we may even have forgotten – whose voices still speak and whose encouragements keep us going when we want to throw in the towel.
Author Joyce Landorf calls them “Balcony People.” Balcony People may be gone, but by God’s grace they are still rooting for us. Imagine the key people from your earliest years, applauding you from the upper row of the “balcony” while you remain on the stage, playing out the drama of your life.
Every now and then you can hear the voice of a teacher who believed in you. And the grandmother who spoke life back into you when you thought you would never survive the heartache of that break-up. And the coach whose insistence on excellence drove you crazy – something you now realize changed your life for the better. It’s easy to lose heart in a hope-crushing world. But our Balcony People never stop saying, “Be resilient. Persevere. This is no time to quit.”
Landorf warns us not to listen to an alternative set of voices in our lives: the Basement People. Basement People – whether living or dead, whether accidentally or intentionally – cause us to lose sight of our purpose and resolve. They drain our desire to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
You’ll always be depressed. You don’t have a creative bone in your body. You’ll never lose weight. Why can’t you be more like your sister? You should be ashamed. Those are the voices of doubt and intimidation. But we don’t have to listen to them.
All Saints’ Day is our annual reminder to do what we can choose to do every day: thank God for those who have poured their time, their energy, and their kindness into our lives – and to resolve that we will not fail to do the same for the next generation. Rituals help us to remember, to lift up the names of those whom we have lost and to pause and give thanks for the unique qualities they have brought into our lives. Today, we are invited to participate in that centuries-old tradition, to remember those who have graced our lives and to thank God for the gifts they have given to us on the journey of life.