November 1, 2020

Communion of Saints


Romans 12:4-5
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Mark 8:31-35
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it.
I had a friend in Oshawa, Ontario
One day he set out with his family from Oshawa, Ontario to go the amusement park near Buffalo.
He drove and drove and his wife kept saying. Are you sure you know the way?”
And he would reply “Don’t be silly, of course I know where I am going.”
And and when he came to a sign saying Sarnia, Ontario, he realized that he was a little lost.
It would be like setting out from Edmonton to go to Rocky Mountain House and ending up in Calgary.
And, of course he never did stop and ask directions.
Another memorable story about this friend is the time is that he put an above ground swimming pool in his back yard.
He was out one day cleaning up the leaves and dirt that had blown into the pool from a storm the night before and he was using the pool vacuum system.
As the kids would swim by, he playfully would stick the end of the vacuum hose on the kids. His wife told him to stop that.
He replied that the vacuum was safe as houses and to prove it, he stuck the end of the vacuum on himself. Unfortunately, my friend underestimated the strength of the vacuum, and a very sensitive part of his body was stuck inside the vacuum hose, and remained that way until his wife turned off the vacuum system.
I tell these stories because these are two of the fond memories I have of this friend who died just over twenty years ago. He was around my age.
I find that it is often the actual stories that are so meaningful when it comes to remembering someone.
It is one thing to say that a person was kind or thoughtful, loving and warm. It is quite another to tell a story that illustrates the person.
Whenever I am called upon to do a funeral, I try to have the family do in my presence, a little biographical sketch. When were they born? Who was in the family? Where did they live? What did they do at school? What jobs did they work at? Who did they marry? What children did they have? What hobbies were important to them? Who were their friends? What values did they have?
But it is the little stories and anecdotes I really listen to, that give the flavour of the person, that give definition to the character. Sometimes, I come away as if I have known this person a long time, just by hearing the story of this person.
And maybe on this Communion of Saints Sunday there is someone you are especially thinking about who is not physically here on this earth any more, and you have fond memories, or maybe you are still grieving…
Maybe it is a partner, or a parent, or a child, or a friend that you remember.
Maybe there are several you remember.
Or maybe with Covid-19 you are remembering someone who is still alive on this earth but you have been separated from and cannot see. It has been eighteen months since I have seen my mother and don’t know when I will be able to go back and see her again. A couple of years is a long time when your mother is 87 years old.
Or maybe it is not one or two people you are thinking of today. Maybe you, like me, carry within you, countless numbers of people who have touched you deeply throughout the years, for whom you are grateful and whom you want to remember today.
The Communion of Saints is the idea that we are all family and that the family is not separated by death. We are all one family in this life and the life beyond and it gives us comfort to know that departed ones are in God’s hands.
In fact, the word used in the Beatitudes, Blessed, is a translation from the Greek word Makarios. And it used to be used thousands of years ago to refer to the dead who were in God’s hands.
They had left pain and suffering and struggle and now were Makarios, Blessed, receiving the blessings of God in the life to come.
But I think the is another way to understand the Communion of Saints.
In your head, in your mind, or in your soul, there is a table. Round that table sit people who matter to you, who influence you, with whom you have relationships. Some of those people are obvious – family and close friends.
But some of the people who sit at that table in your mind are dead and some of those people who have never even met but they influence you. They may be musicians or authors, or people in history that have inspired you.
So that table is actually a very big table and all the people who matter to you, and all the people who have interacted with you, and all the people who have influenced you are at that table,
Some of them you are consciously aware of, and some are there subconsciously. Sometimes they have influenced you in specific ways and sometimes in vague way.
But basically, your mind still communes with them, talks to them, listens to them, feels them, interacts with them, learns from them absorbs them.
And they are a part of you forever. They are your communion of saints.
The minister who most influenced me to first think of being a minister was a Pentecostal by the name of David Crabtree. The minister who influenced me to join the Presbyterian church in Canada was a minister by the name of the Rev. Robert Jackson. The minister who most influenced my preaching was a professor by the name of Fred Craddock.
They are all part of my communion of saints and although they are dead, they are part of me.
In fact, I don’t have an identity if it were not for the communion of saints in my mind. I would not have thoughts, feelings, language, interactions, theology, stories without the people who influenced me, taught me, befriended me, tested me, interacted with me.
And each of those people, life David Crabtree, Robert Jackson and Fred Craddock, each of them had a communion of saints who helped make them who they are…
And so indirectly I am linked to all their communion of saints….
And each of their saints had a communion of saints… and each or those had a communion of saints…
and don’t you get it…
What goes on in your mind is the culmination of millions and millions of people who have affected others,  who affected others, who were a part of others who influenced someone who influenced you.
You are the product of so many people. Just think of your understanding of Jesus. Someone introduced you to Jesus, and many people have told you about Jesus, through speech, or preaching, or friendship, or books, or some other medium, and you took all that and came to your understanding of Jesus. But all those people who told you about Jesus had people tell them about Jesus, and they had people tell them about Jesus and if you could follow the chain all the way back it would eventually get back to the disciples, who told someone about Jesus.
So even the disciples are very distant part of your communion of saints.
But if you could name the obvious ones, who would they be?
The ones who most influence you in life. Maybe one of them is Jesus himself. Maybe you talk to Jesus every day and he is as close as your friends. I know people who have conversations with Jesus every day,

Maybe some of them are heroes, like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King.
Maybe some of them are fictional. I have a Brother Cadfael who sits at my table, a fictional monk who solves mysteries and is full of grace, wisdom and understanding.
Maybe the people who have the prominent places at your table are family.
Maybe they are friends.
Four years after my friend died, I was able to go to the cemetery to see the grave and the headstone of my friend. To remember him. There was a picture on the headstone of him golfing.
And I remembered his smile and the way he and his wife were always bantering or bickering back and forth about something, and always laughing.
But this is the word that sticks in my mind when I think of him: friend.
Jesus said: I no longer call you servants but friends.
For you know, the people who are closest to you have something in common with Jesus.
They take up their cross for you.
They are the ones who give their lives for you and to you.
They give their friendship.
They give their secrets.
They give their pain.
They give their joys.
They give their help
They give their lives.
They lose their lives to you, in order to give you life.
That is what Jesus was talking about when he told us to take up a cross.
When you love, you lose your life for others.
You know, maybe today you are going to think about all the people who sit at your table, your communion of saints who gave and give of themselves for you…
But you know what?
Probably someone else will be thinking about their communion of saints, and who has influenced them, and who has been there for them, who has given their life to them…  and you know what…?
…one of the names they will be thinking of is yours.