Stewardship 3 – Trains
November 6, 2022 – All Saints Sunday, Church of Peace
The word “Loyal” describes relationship. The word itself derives is related to the word “legitimate.” When a relationship is genuine, when it is legitimate it is loyal. One of the assets of the culture of the Church of Peace is that we experience loyal relationships here.
Just as “we love because God first loved us,” so too we are loyal because we experience God’s loyalty. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for you (od) are with me.” God accompanies us through the various moments of our life. Sometimes we are aware of this, sometimes not so much.
Our loyalty to God and to each other derives from God’s loyalty to us; and the cross reminds us that Jesus was loyal even to death for us.
So our All Saints Sunday, our Totenfest Sunday, is a way to mark and honor those of our church family who have died in the last year – since the beginning of November 2021. And it also recognizes that we are still in relationship with them, and indeed, all those who have gone before whom we lift up before God.
So we pronounce the name, we light the candle, we remember a characteristic, and we toll the bell. This is powerful. This is ancient. This is right.
The Totenfest prayer that will follow the reading of the names is a translation of a German prayer that has been in use in Evangelical Church for many generations. The popularization of El Dia de los Muertos in the last several years has built interest in this ancient Christian practice. We have transcripts of sermons of St Ambrose from about 350 AD that refer to a similar, if not the same practice – so it is indeed long lived in Europe. (By the way, the Disney movie Coco is sweet and gives some perspective.)
That we are in loyal relationship with our loved ones, our ancestors, is really common sense. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of folks who have gone before, many of them look out on me from our mantle above the fireplace. And the older we get the more folks there are in this group of honored dead who accompany us on a daily basis.
But our theology takes this up a notch, and posits that all Christians of earlier generations continue eternally in the mind of God and in the lamb’s book of life. There is a detail in a window in the chapel of a lamb resting on a book with markers – and this is a visualization of the reality that beyond our personal psychology of remembering; God remembers too. God is loyal. God does not forget, even if I forget things sometime. And God is eternally loyal. I find this touches me.
The passage from Hebrews read pictures a crowd in an arena, like a cloud of witnesses, who cheer us on in our life, as we struggle and strive. As a metaphor for a cloud of spiritual fans, loyal well-wishers hoping and praying the best for us is deeply encouraging to me. And for the writer of Hebrews this was more than a metaphor, but the way it really is.
As a church, both individuals and as a congregation, we seek to emulate God’s eternal loyalty in our lifelong faithfulness to each other. We express this in specific ways in our sharing of joys and concerns, in caring for and looking after the ill and the homebound, those in difficulty or distress, and doing our best to keep in touch. We are human, not God, and we sometimes fall short. But our aim is loyalty in relationship. And we show our loyalty to God through our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service to the church. And in this we do the best we can and as we are able. We do his in response to God’s love and loyalty to us. We love because God first loved us.
Loyal relationships are covenants. And covenants are different from contracts in that they are more open ended. The covenant we are most familiar with is marriage, and it is often made solemn with word like, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health…” And we mourn when covenants are fractured, as they sometimes are in human relationships. Our covenant with God is secure because God is always dependable, no matter the circumstance. And there is no “til death us do part.”
Contracts are limited, and expressed in terms of “if … then.” There is no “if … then” with God.
All human relationships have essential honorable underpinnings of mutual dignity and respect and a general fairness of exchange. And human contractual relationships remain intact so long as the if/then transaction is kept. Covenants are more enduring, and when the circumstances change there is elasticity and grace.
We aspire to loyal, enduring human relationships.
God’s love is loyal and stronger than death. God’s love is loyal even beyond the grave. And we seek to be like God in our love and loyalty to each other and to the church.
Amen and amen.