The Unbroken Circle
By Charles Rush
November 3, 2002
Hebrews 12: 1-2
casionally, people will say to me, upon finding out that I am a Minister, “Oh Reverend, I consider myself a spiritual man but I prefer to worship under the great canopy of nature rather than actually go to Church.” Usually I hear this line munching on hor d’ouvres at a fundraising event or walking up the 3rd fairway after a stream of language has poured forth from a strangers mouth and someone quickly introduces me as a Minister- FYI. I pass no judgment but… the personal worship under the great canopy line is an utterly lame attempt at rationalization. I never respond to that line but I would like to say, “Really, I consider myself an investor but rather than wade through all those quarterly reports, I pin the great canopy of equities from the business section of the paper, tack it on the wall of my office and throw a dart to see what it will hit…” It is possible to beat the market average that way, especially these days, but I wouldn’t recommend it as long-term strategy.
actually need to come to Church because we need to remember, as Elie Wiesel
says. But for Christians, fundamentally, living the faith is about the
community. It is about the people, about sharing our lives. You can’t
practice forgiveness in the great canopy of nature, ( that takes other
people). You can’t learn to love difficult people. We need each other learn
about being open, honest, vulnerable, self-reflective, caring. We need each
other to learn how to build people up and support them in their grief. We need
each other to bless us, so we can bless other people, and give. Christianity is
a social religion. Being involved with nature is spiritual and important of
course. It is just not enough.
is All Saints Day and we are singing a Requiem Mass for the Dead. It is not a
morbid reflection, nor even somber, but
it is meditative. There is a time and a place to honor those who have gone
before us, and to draw upon the blessing that they have bestowed on us. The
scripture in Hebrews says, “Seeing as how we are surrounded by so great a
cloud of witnesses.” And we are.
had a good friend in college whose Father died when she was just 19, a very
tragic death. And she loved her father deeply and needed him quite a lot during
that vulnerable time of her life. In the days and weeks just after his death
there was just a pallor over her whole family. She had taken the semester off
from school to be home with her family. One morning, in the early hours of the
morning, in that transition from sleep to waking, her father appeared to her in
the room. He came and sat on the end of her bed, smiling at her. He told her
that heaven was an interesting place and that God had a better sense of humor
than most people realized. He said he had met Socrates and that Socrates lived
up to his reputation. He had seen Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King. He said that he was okay and not to worry
about him and that he loved her and he was pulling for her. And then… he was
She got up that morning with
a small but important change in her life. She was still sad. She was still
anxious and fearful. But she was going to go on. She would still miss her
father but she had his blessing that she would go on and it would be okay. It
was simple, ambiguous, and powerful.
is important to stop and remember sometimes that we are not alone, that, in
fact, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that are pulling
for us and encouraging us. Though they are not physically present, they
are blessing the kids when they get married, they are blessing the
grandchildren when they are baptized, they are giving us confidence when we are
nervous over the big presentation, they are celebrating our achievements. We
are all connected.
someone died in ancient Celtic societies, the whole village would stop and lead
a procession out of the village, across the moors, to a circle of stones in a
field. I’ve never had this verified, but I am quite sure that I am on the right
track, that they filed into the circle of stones and joined hands in a very large
circle, locking arm in arm to remember the unbroken circle between the land of
the living and the land of the dead, between this world and Otherworld, as they
called it. Our Yoruba ancestors from Western Africa had a very similar
tradition and a very similar awareness of the interaction between this world
and Otherworld. In both cases, they went through these spiritual rituals to
ward off any curse they might get from the ancestors and to receive the
blessing from those that had died.
They recognized the profound
spiritual power that the deceased can have on us. Therapists can attest to the
paralyzing effect of having a relative or loved one dies when you are
alienated, at odds, just not reconciled. The worry and guilt regularly
compounds and it becomes an unwieldy spiritual bucket of rocks that people
carry around for years.
Even in the best of
circumstances, living through grief is tough spiritual work. We are near to
entering the Holiday season, and the Holiday season is difficult for those
first few years when a loved one is not there. Your loved one gave you
security, safety. They were the big part of what home really means.
They were the simple, deep joy that comes from just doing nothing and being at
rest with family and friends. Under the best of circumstances, it is difficult
to let them go.
This is one of the places
that the Church comes in. I’m not talking about the institution of the Church,
although I should be. I really mean your spiritual community of support… it has
some people in the Church and some people that are friends and loved ones. They
can’t take the place of those who die but they can hold you and get you on
through. We had a funeral here recently for Connie Baldwin, who died at the too
young age of 51, leaving two college age kids behind. Her friends got up to say
some words about her, a group of women that meet every month- and there were
half a dozen Christ Church women in that group I’m proud to say. At the end of
their talk they looked down at Connie’s kids and they said, “You know we
can’t take the place of your mother, but we will show up for your weddings, for
the births of your children, for your children’s baptisms. We will stand in.”
I thought to myself, they got it. That is what we do, that is the Spirit
of God, moving through us, binding us altogether in a great unbroken circle us
community, love, and support.
The reality is this. From the other side, they are
blessing you. They want you to get on through and go on. What we can do, in
honor of that which we have received, is bless the rising generation. We can
invest ourselves through the rising generation in ways that will bless people
in the future.
In our building next door, that is a large part of
what we are actually doing. We had the opportunity to put a short inscription
on the front entrance of the Church. As Churches tend to stay around for
centuries, not just decades, it was something filled with a wonderful gravitas.
Just the thought that people decades from now- after all of us are on the other
side- would read something week in and
week out was sobering and gratifying. I keep saying that it is not about
the building, it is about the rising community of people that will be in the
building, so let’s do it right. It is just one way to bless the future,
but a good way. This is what we chose for the entrance. It is a shortened
worthy of praise,
on these things.
As we gather around the Table this
morning, let us gather with the great, unbroken circle, those who have gone
before us have blessed us, are blessing us. Let us release that blessing with
each other and into the future. And let
us run with purpose that race which is set before us, looking to Jesus, the
pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
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