I pray that God may give you a spirit of wisdom and perception… so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called us, how rich is the glory of the heritage that God offers us. Ephesians 1:17-18
It is that time of year again. That time, when leaves burst out in color and fade and fall; when the air begins to chill; when the plants retreat into the earth; when birds depart for the south. It is the dying time of the year, in this part of the globe. We begin to think more often of those whom we love who have died. We begin to think about where we are in the cycle of life and death. Sometimes we even talk about life, death, and dying.
It is not considered nice to talk about death, so we use other words. We say that someone has passed, or left us; been taken, been lost, or gone to a better place. And yet it is very important to talk about death and dying honestly, without holding back. There is so much to share with one another: poignant memories, and painful ones; fears and questions and plans.
Our culture teaches us that death is something to ignore or, if necessary, to defy. But however we resist it, death is a natural event. And the time of dying, even the process of grieving, can be precious. We give thanks for all of the gifts that a child of God has brought into the world. We embrace one another with hearts that are more open, more tender. And we remember, as Ephesians puts it, the hope to which God has called us, and the glorious heritage that God offers us. But what exactly is the hope, what is the heritage, that God gives us? What is the comfort our faith offers us in the face of death? During this week of All Saints day, I am reminded of three aspects of our hope and heritage in God.
First, I think of the saints themselves. Often we assume “saints” are those canonized in the Roman or Orthodox traditions. But in New Testament language, the Greek word hagioi simply means “holy ones.” It is the most commonly used title for anyone following in the way of Jesus. All of us have saints who have accompanied us on our journey of faith. Who are the saints in your life?
Secondly, I think about how God draws us towards a better future. We are taught that God’s realm will someday be fully realized; that Jesus will return among us in a new way; that every tear will be wiped away; that every hungry mouth will be filled; that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This beautiful hope stands before us, encouraging us to be part of God’s work in the world.
Finally, at this dying time of year, I think of the gift of the resurrection. In the mysterious rising of Jesus, God teaches us that evil, suffering, and even death never have the final word. In God, we are all caught up in a greater story, a greater cycle. We are united with all creation: past, present, and future. Justice, joy, and life will come again. Love will come again, like wheat that rises green. Alleluia, Christ is risen; Christ is risen, indeed.
It is because of our magnificent hope and our glorious inheritance that we can bear to be honest about death. We will not always be full of confidence. We will certainly not be without suffering. And yet, we can take comfort. We are part of a great host of faithful, who have gone before us, and come after us, and walk alongside us. We await a better future that calls us forward. And we have a strange, beautiful resurrection to ponder: a resurrection that happened over two thousand years ago, and yet is still being experienced all over the world. In fact, it is happening right now, whenever we let go of fear, and put our trust in God instead.
Holy One, we give thanks for the heritage and hope we receive in you. We thank you for all the saints who surround us. We thank you for all those who hope and work for God’s realm alongside us. We thank you for all those who embody the resurrection with us. Amen.