“I first began to understand how different monasteries were from any other places I’d known when a monk said to me one day, ‘It’s time for you to meet the rest of the community.’ We walked to the cemetery, and through it, and as we passed each grave, [he] told me stories about the deceased.” This experience, as Kathleen Norris describes it in The Cloister Walk, gets to the very heart of what Remembrance Sunday is about. A month ago, on World Communion Sunday, we celebrated our unity with the body of Christ throughout the world. Today, as we recognize those who’ve gone on before us, we celebrate our unity with the body of Christ throughout time. In each case, “the ‘rest of the community’ turns out to be very large indeed.”
A more traditional term for the occasion we mark here at MPC on Remembrance Sunday is All Saints’ Day. “More than any other day of the year, [it] is family reunion day for the church.” It’s a “day for pulling out the old family photograph albums and remembering where we came from.” A day for thanking God “for all [those] saints who from their labors rest.” Women and men distinguished not always or only by their goodness—after all, some of the most famous Christian saints had checkered pasts, at best—but rather “by their extravagant love of God, which shines brighter than anything else about them.” “In his holy flirtation with the world,” Frederick Buechner suggests, “God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”
“On all Saints Day we make the very bold claim that all these people are [also] our relatives. ‘They were all of them saints of God,’ we sing, ‘and I mean to be one too.’ [For] we have the same blood running in our veins –Christ’s blood—and the same light we see shining in them shines in us too.”
To be a saint, Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us, “you don’t have to be famous, or perfect, or dead. You just have to be you—the one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated human being whom God created you to be—to love as you are loved, to throw your arms around the world, to shine like the sun. You don’t have to do it alone, either. You have all this company—all these saints sitting right here whom you can see for yourself plus those you cannot… all of them egging you on, calling your name, and shouting themselves hoarse with encouragement. Because you are part of them, and they are part of you, and all of us are knit together in the communion of saints—God’s handkerchiefs—dropped on the world for the love of Christ.”
Anne Lamott shares a story her pastor told in church one Sunday – “When she was about seven, her best friend got lost. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until finally she saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘you can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.’ And that is why I have always stayed so close to mine [Lamott continues] – because no matter how I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their … voices, I can always find my way back home.”
Our Scripture text from Hebrews 12 speaks of that road back home in terms of running a race. In our foot race of faith, the same Lord who ran before us, the one called the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’, also runs beside us every step of the way. And if you are willing to look for them, you might also recognize the others God has set along your path, those who are near and dear to you, as well as those you might only know at a distance. Some will be running buddies, with you over the long haul; others will touch your life for an instant, then disappear into the crowd.
God knows we need the rest of community, both to help us find our way home, and to cheer us on till we get there. That’s why we worship God together.
For some of you, the list of names we will remember in prayer time today includes someone who did for you precisely what our psalmist talked about this morning. “One generation shall laud [God’s] works to another, and shall declare [God’s] mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4) You may be here in this room precisely because of the love and prayers, the guidance and teaching, of one of these saints of God for whose lives we give thanks today. A Sunday School teacher who shared Bible stories with you at an early age. An elder or a deacon who modeled for you faithful service to the Church, and perhaps invited you into a leadership role as well. Or someone who served quietly behind the scenes, inspiring you to do likewise, as a sign of your devotion to God. Thanks be to God that Carol, Ray, Eloise, Cecile, Ruth, Kay, and Norman all helped to make this church family what it is today.
There’s much to be said for surrounding ourselves however we can with reminders of the rest of the community. Whether they’re saints of God who’ve gone before us in this congregation. Or friends and relatives who’ve prayed for us and encouraged us for years. Or even Christians we’ve never even met who struggle in print with the same questions and challenges we do, and have words of wisdom that help us on our way. You’ll notice certain names crop up fairly often in my sermons – that’s because the “great cloud of witnesses” that encourages me in my particular work includes commentators and Bible scholars, novelists, poets and fellow preachers. When I sit down at the computer to write, I sometimes imagine myself standing in a huge crowd, surrounded by all those who’ve interpreted a particular Scripture passage before me, and all those who do so alongside me today. We’re not in this business of seeking God alone. “The ‘rest of the community’ [is] very large indeed.”
As you continue the race that is set before you, remember that Christ runs with you every step of the way. And remember that you have a great company of brothers and sisters in faith to encourage you, to cheer you on, and finally, to welcome you home.
 Kathleen Norris, Cloister Walk, p. 373.
 Norris, p. 376.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “God’s Handkerchiefs,” in Home By Another Way, p. 208.
 Taylor, p. 209
 Taylor, p. 212.
 Taylor, p. 212.
 Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, p. 55.
 Norris, p. 376.