All Saint’s Parish
6 November 2005
Preston, Victoria, AU
There are many stories in this great big world. Everybody has at least one. One story that I bring to you this morning is that I came here from California four years ago to work at a local parish, then last year to return to work in University chaplaincy at La Trobe University and, alongside Father James, at RMIT University. It is good to be here, to do work I love with people I care about, in a country that gives a fair go for its people, a country with a good heart.
But I must admit sometimes I miss the place I came from, I miss the sight of the ocean fog when it comes into San Francisco Bay through the Golden Gate at the end of the hot day. I miss the sounds of certain bird songs I know, even though the birds here are so bright and wonderful and so very noisy. And, even though I’ve made some great friends - people I care for, people who care for me - I do miss the faces of friends and family known all my life, people who knew me before I was born. I miss the land of my old memories, though in so many cases, memories are all that remain. Friends and family have, died and gone, moved on, and even if I were to return to what used to be home, it would not be to the place that lives in my heart and mind: for even if I am far away, they have gone farther. I will not see them soon, but I know that they are in the sight of God, and not far from this table. But sometimes it still makes me sad that the world is so big and so much is lost from my daily sight. Sometimes I wish my arms were big enough that I could reach out and hold all my family and friends, near and far away, close to my heart. But the world is so big and I am not that big. None of us are. But the feeling abides. We all feel like that sometimes. It is a part of our story as living human beings.
Here is a version of another, very old story that a man named Elie Wiesel tells.
Once upon a time, there was a great and holy teacher, and whenever trouble came to his people; he would go into a certain part of the forest to light a fire, and say one special prayer, and the people would be spared. Years later, when one his disciples saw misfortune coming he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, please listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer." And again a miracle would happen. And years after that, in another time of trouble, still another person of faith went into the forest and said: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not remember the prayer, but I know the place and this must be enough." And it was. Then more time passed, perhaps up to the present day, and trouble came again, And this time it fell to one old woman, the wisest and most holy teacher in her town, to do something. Sitting in her chair, her head in her hands, she spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was.
That story can be good news for us because we, all of us, live in a world where we feel that we no longer know the whole story: the world has gotten so big. Sometimes it feels like we have forgotten how to light the fire, say the inspired prayer, even find the place; and even though we might remember where the path was, sometimes it seems like the path might have moved.
That is why is why we are here today on this Feast of All Saint’s. To recall that no matter how big the world is, how wide the gathering of people over time and place, no matter how much seems lost, it is all found in the love God has for us, all of us, living and dead, lost and found. We are here to recall how God’s wide arms encircle us, hold us together in this and every place, church and village, town and country, past and present and future, here and now.
The stories we come to remember around this table on this Feast of All Saint’s are very old stories, told over thousands of year in many places and in many languages. Even though they are not always easy to hold on to, they are true. For they tell us that even though time and travel may take us far from what we used to know and where we used to be: the God of the universe is here and now. God is present in the life and love of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the spirit, willing to bring us into the fullness of life, to the fullness of the present moment, to the fullness of the unknowable future.
So we look back into letter that St. John wrote almost 2000 years ago, to come to understand the life that Jesus shares with us, to live in his hope, and be enlightened by his life and insight. Remembering we are children of God. That God’s love is our family name, our most intimate home, both the place where we are planted and our hope for a future we cannot yet fully understand, for what we will be has not yet been revealed, but when he is revealed, we will be like him, and we will see him as he is.
And with that hope in our hearts we can look forward to that wonderful picture in the Revelation to John, that great poetic vision, where the ones who have come through great ordeals have washed their robes and made them white: all home now; no more hunger or thirst, no more blazing sun or scorching heat; for the shepherd guides them to springs of living water, where every tear wiped away, every scar washed clean.
And we look to Jesus, meeting us in the present moment at this table to assure us that whoever and wherever we are right now, we are found in his love. When we mourn, are poor in sprit, hunger and thirst for righteousness, practice mercy; work and pray for peace, meet persecution, pain, misunderstanding on the way – and we all do - then we are blessed, here, now and always; for that way – the way of peace, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance - is God’s way and God’s way will be our way home.
So, now we come to this table to give thanks for this true story, in the company of all the Saints and martyrs, known and unknown. We come together with the prophets and priests, the angels and archangels, the living and dead, the whole company of heaven: to join in praise, to lift our hearts and hope, to eat the bread of heaven and drink the cup of salvation. And to know in God’s good glory nothing and no one will be lost, and in God’s love and forgiveness all creation will be found, and finally be brought home.