I still remember the year when I lit candles for my parents on All Saints Sunday. My father had died a few years earlier and several months had passed since my mother’s death. I was fine until I picked up two candles from the basket, clutching them close together as I lit them simultaneously and planted them side-by-side in the sand filled tray on the communion table. This was a large congregation thus the congregation did not take time to hear and respond to the names of the many people for whom candles were lit that day.
This Sunday, November 5th, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church we will take time during the prayers of the people to remember those who have recently gone on before us to the Church Triumphant. Normally we remember members and other participants who have died within the last twelve months. But, recognizing that grief does not have a strict limits …
We will place our lighted candles around the baptismal font, thus connecting beginnings and endings of faith journeys. We will listen to the name of each of person who guided our faith walk and we will give thanks for each life. Please contact our secretary if you have a name that should be listed in the worship bulletin. We will also have a few extra candles, should the Spirit move you to come forward at the last minute expanding the multitude of those who have gone before us to the Church Triumpant.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, while deep in the spirit and having been invited through a door into heaven, John is surprised to envision “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” After hearing them sing he learns that “these are they who have come through the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” John received this revelation during the height of Christian persecution, when many who were baptized in water were later baptized again in their own blood as they witnessed to the power of faith in their lives. The word martyr comes from this idea of witnessing to one’s faith, even at the risk of one’s life.
Only in our most violent imaginations might we glimpse the tribulation of dying for faith in Christ Jesus. Yet, even today, if not personally, then through the miracle of technology, we might still glimpse the horrors of gun violence or sexual assault, the agony of lingering disease or prolonged hunger, and the unjust stigma of discrimination. If we are honest with ourselves, we wrestle with the cost of standing up for justice and equitable social structures so that others will not have to suffer similar horrors, agony, or injustice. We might wonder: Is it worth our blood that we might too become martyrs, witnesses of God’s Kingdom?
I remember modifying the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The third verse as written by Julia Howe ends: “as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.” However our high school choir director had us alter this line to read: “as he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, while God is marching on,” for living to make others free can be more challenging than merely risking one’s life. To live to make people free requires continually risking life and livelihood, friends and family, and prestige. Living to Christ requires daily witnessing to what God is doing in us and through others, pointing beyond ourselves to a new reality in Christ.
I will have more to say about Revelation 7:9-17 and about those who have lived a life of faith, at 8:15 AM and 10:30 AM on Sunday, November 5th, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.