“Resting our Hope on God” Colchester Federated Church, November 7, 2021, All Saints Sunday (Psalm 146)
There was a wonderful Disney/Pixar movie that came out in 2017 called Coco. It tells the story of Miguel—an aspiring young musician who dreams of being as great of a performer as his hero Ernesto de la Cruz. Though music has been banned in his family for generations because of the trauma of a family member deserting the family to pursue a musical career. Miguel’s grandmother teaches him about Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead.) It’s a holiday about family, the one night of the year when their ancestors come visit. The family photos from the Rivera family are displayed on an ofrenda (a decorated home altar) so that their ancestor’s spirits can cross over from the Land of the Dead. Miguel’s grandmother tells him that if the family member’s photos aren’t put out, they can’t come. Favorite foods and drinks of those departed loved ones are lovingly set out on the altar along with some of the things that they loved in life and beautiful flowers and candles. All of these traditions are about bringing the family together.
Coco shared some of the traditions that are still observed in Mexico and by families of Mexican descent for the Day of the Dead with a wide audience. Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade returned this week after it was cancelled for the last two years because of Covid. In Coco, Miguel ends up magically traveling to the Land of the Dead and learns some family secrets long forgotten. It has a beautiful ending that may or may not make you cry because it’s Pixar. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it—please do! It’s wonderful.
Now in the Christian Church on the first Sunday in November, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. It’s another day about traditions and family. All Saints Day developed because there were so many saints and martyrs that were remembered in the Roman Catholic Church that the Church literally ran out of days in the calendar. The solution was to designate November 1 as the day to commemorate all the saints who couldn’t have their own individual dates and whose names may have even been forgotten over time in some corners of the Church. Traditions developed so that all canonized saints are commemorated on November 1 and all the faithful who have died are commemorated on November 2—All Souls Day. The Day of the Dead is often celebrated from October 31st through November 2nd, but some would say that the festivities culminate on the night of the 2nd. All Saints. All Souls. Dia de los Muertos. There are many unique traditions associated with how we remember those who have died at this time of year.
Which brings us to worship this morning. Protestants historically combined All Saints and All Souls. Because on All Saints Sunday, we don’t just remember the famous figures of the Church. We tend to focus on those people we have personally known and loved and lost in the past year. We often focus on our families—remembering those souls we have commended to God. All Saints Sunday revolves around giving thanks for any person who has been influential in our spiritual formation and growth. Because the truth is that every single person can have a positive impact on another person’s life. We have more power to be the light for others than we sometimes realize.
There’s a poem by an unknown author that can bring a great deal of comfort and perspective in moments where we face a loved one dying called “A Life that Matters.” The poet writes that when our lives come to an end, “What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught. What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others.”
On All Saints Sunday we remember those saints known to us and give thanks to God for them. We contemplate what a life well lived looks like. We recognize that acts of integrity, compassion, courage, or sacrifice can help build one another up when we are brought low. Because someday it will all come to an end. Of course, it’s not pleasant to think about our mortality, but perspective can help us live lives that matter for ourselves and in service of one another. That unknown poet reminds us, “All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.”
One of the beautiful messages of Coco is that passing down the stories of those we have loved and lost keeps their memory and even their spirits alive. The stories are what helps keep a loved one in our hearts even generations after they have died. Let this be heartening to all you genealogists and family historians who research and learn about your ancestors. Humans are meaning-making creatures. We love stories. We love telling stories and hearing stories. Think about the stories that Jesus told and the stories that others told about Jesus and how those stories have lasted for thousands of years.
In the end, the Psalmist may sound harsh today when we read from Psalm 146, “Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings—there’s no saving help with them! Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too.” But even if it seems harsh, it’s true. Because it is God that rules forever, it is God that rules from generation to generation. We may be part of faith communities that have been here long before we were born, and God willing, will be here long after we die. It is good to have that perspective. Our church is 318 years old. We’re on our fourth meeting house. The first pastor who ever served here (Reverend John Bulkeley) is buried right over there, next to the parsonage I happen to live in in the year 2021. Reverend Bulkeley helped the church get established in this community, but the church didn’t begin with him at the center. The church put God at the center and hopefully has ever since. Why? Because as the Psalmist says, “Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings—there’s no saving help with them! Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too.”
Our help is in God. God is at the center of who we are and what we do as a church family. Having that perspective helps us keep life in perspective. God is with us to remember and honor all those who came before us and to keep telling their stories. Let us rest our hope on God. Thanks be to God. Amen.