For All The Saints

shirley

All Saints:  For All the Saints

Luke 6:20-31

 

My sister’s friend Shirley died last month.

Shirley taught language arts in a Massachusetts middle school.

 

In the 25 years since Shirley retired,

she moved from her home to an assisted living apartment,

and finally to a nursing home.

 

Shirley was an only child, never married and didn’t have any children.

She had one living relative – an elderly cousin in Las Vegas.

 

Every month my sister Joanne and another teacher – Kathy – visited Shirley.

They usually played a game of Scrabble.

And Shirley usually won.

 

Joanne and Kathy didn’t know much about Shirley’s personal life.

Often Shirley would tell them fantastic stories

about travels and adventures and visitors ….

 

Over time, they came to realize that the travels, adventures…and sadly also the visitors…

never happened.

 

For 25 years, as far as they knew, Shirley’s only visitors

were Joanne and Kathy.

 

When Shirley died, a neighbor served as the executor of her estate.

She didn’t know him very well,

but Shirley had chosen him because she thought he was good with figures.

 

He wrote in her obituary that “services will be private,”

meaning really that there would not be a memorial service.

Shirley would be cremated and her ashes interred at the convenience of the funeral home.

 

On the Friday after Shirley died,

Joanne, Kathy, a third colleague,

(and my mother – just to add another person to this tiny gathering),

met at the cemetery.

They gathered around the ground where her ashes were interred – the holy ground,

And they prayed the prayer of commendation from our hymnal:

 

“Into your hands O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Shirley;

Acknowledge we humbly beseech you,

A sheep of your own fold;

A lamb of your own flock;

A sinner of your own redeeming;

Receive her into the arms of your mercy,

Into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,

And Into the glorious company of all the saints in light.”

 

Into the glorious company of all the saints in light.

 

On All Saints Sunday we remember all the saints.

Not just some saints…

Not just the ones who were close to us personally for whom we lit a candle today…

Not just ones who are depicted in stained glass windows or statues…

But all the saints…

 

And so this is a day for Shirley.

And others like her who die alone or lonely in nursing homes.

Blessed are you Shirley for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 

This is a day for the unknown men and women who die without shelter each year.

Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 

This is a day for the unnamed refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 

This is a day for the those who die by suicide.

And for those who are the victims of homicide.

 

This is a day for those who die in hospital beds hooked up to a multitude of machines

And for those who die in places around the world where there are no hospitals.

Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 

This is a day for those who die in pain that is not relieved,

With regrets that have not been expressed,

And with dreams that have never been fulfilled.

Blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 

This is a day for those of us like Shirley.

 

It was meant to be.

In the 4th century, All Saints Day was established

To remember the early Christian martyrs whose names were never recorded,

So could be easily forgotten.

 

Today we remember those who are close to our hearts,

And also we remember those who may be forgotten.

 

This is a day for Shirley – and all those for whom no one may light a candle,

But who live in the company of all the saints in light.

 

As we sing our Hymn of the Day, I invite you to come forward one more time.

This time light a candle for someone you do not know…

 

Light a candle for someone who may not have been known by many,

But is deeply known by God.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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