Rodney Crowell wrote and sings a song called “Adam’s Song.” In it, he speaks of how the days are getting shorter, and the wind is colder, and the nights are clearer. The last leaves of November are falling and the stars are bright.
He sings that on these short days and long nights, our minds wander to our loved ones who have passed.
I think his song is so apt for All Saints Day and this late fall season.
You see, there are holidays coming up. Thanksgiving, and then Christmas… and when I think of these, I think also of Crowell’s lyrics, “We don’t want to say goodbye. We don’t want to feel that empty.” I wonder, am I going to set one less spot at the table for Thanksgiving? What do we do when writing out Christmas cards and that address is now… no longer needed? When I unpack the Christmas tree ornaments, which one is going to make my heart leap into my throat? What favorite food on the thanksgiving table will make my hands shake?
There are so many little extra loses, extra times of emptiness, after someone dies. And each little goodbye makes the emptiness feel bigger.
Each chair I don’t set out.
Each address I no longer write out.
Each present I don’t buy.
Each face I remember who used to be here, and now is not.
When I look at my grandmother and her eyes are so dazed at our Christmas dinner, I cannot help but wonder… who is she thinking of? Parents, siblings, and children who all used to be at this table? She’s outlived them all. Classmates she used to rush back from holiday breaks to share stories with; friends who died ten years prior? I almost can see the spirits reflecting in her eyes.
And yet, at that meal, we will pray and we eat like we always do. Because life is still going on, even though those holes are there. Crowell’s chorus is, “We’re just learning how to live with a life long broken heart.”
I think that’s so true. The emptiness continues, but so do we.
So we learn a new way of living. A new way of carrying on this broken heart, of saying new little goodbyes on our dead loved one’s birthdays, deathdays, the holidays, and those moments that hit us without warning — when we hear their song on the overhead speakers at the grocery store, or smell their soap on some stranger, or find an old list they wrote… a broken heart, but a life that’s still going on. A process of learning to live.
What do we do when it seems we can’t go on? Crowell sings about this too. Crowell sings, “When we cannot understand, when we cannot find new meaning, we’ll seek out the ones you loved, and love.” “It’s a privilege to remember. The sound of days done past will last.”
I see that as what we are doing today. We are seeking meaning to our loves’ deaths. We’re seeking to understand. We’re seeking a way to continue going on in this life without them. And in our seeking, we turn to the people who loved our loved one too, and together, we remember the days long past.
And together, we seek meaning in scripture. And in scripture, we hear our beloved God promising through the prophet Isaiah that God will wipe away the tear from every face. That someday, here on Earth, and this day, now in Heaven, God will lay a great banquet feast for all people. Death will be no more. The shroud, the funeral cloth, over us all — the weight of knowing we are going to die and all we love will die too — will be lifted permanently. And all things will be made new.
Our communion is a foretaste, an appetizer, before this great meal. In the Eucharist we get a little sampling of what it will be like to share in the great victory feast with God. Through this ritual, we share in Jesus’ death… the death we all will someday face too… and we share in Jesus’ victory over the death…. a victory we will one day know too.
We take communion with all the saints. All of the children of God. We come to the table and join the cloud of witnesses: all of those who we remember today. All of those who leave us learning to live with broken hearts. All of those who guided us to Christianity. All of those who formed and reformed our church. All of those who died countless generations ago.
We also take it with all of those yet to be born.
Here, in a sacred moment with God, we transcend time and place and partake in a little appetizer of heaven.
Understanding, finding new meaning, comes from those we love and who love us.
We are loved by God. We are loved by Jesus. We are loved by the Spirit. We are loved by the Christians who came before us and who will come after us. We are supported by all of this love just as we support them. Together, walking together, we can face a life that is full of goodbyes…
… because a great reunion is in our future.
We don’t want to say goodbye, because we don’t want to feel that empty… but the goodbyes we say now are not forever goodbyes. These are goodbye, for now, and I look forward to when we meet again.
These are goodbye, I won’t see you when I we take communion, but I know you are there.
And some day, I’ll see you again.
And the tears we have won’t be tears of sorrow, but tears of joy.
And we will sit down to the full meal, the full feast, given to us by our most loving God. Amen.
Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, 11-1-15, Baltimore Ohio.