Sermon Text: All Those Names...
Have you ever tried to read the Bible from cover to cover? The first time I tried, I was in 7th grade. I didn't get very far. What stopped me was not the blood and gore of Exodus and Joshua. As a 7th-grade boy, I kind of liked that.
No, it was the lists. Lists and lists of names. All those genealogies. Ichabod begat Gomer. Gomer begat Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat begat the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Mosquito Bites, or whatever. It just put me to sleep. Who cares about all those names?
But I got older, and I realized something. The people who made those lists cared. The lists are names of the beloved dead. All those names....they are family. Those who have gone before are family. The dead are family. The dead are still in our hearts. The dead are still related to God.
In a minute, we are going to pray our way through a long list of names. Some people might find this boring. Not me. Not anymore. The older I get, the more people I know on the other side of death.
Think of the Vietnam Wall memorial. All those names. All those people. All that love.
This list of ours has so many names. Some of them were very old and died after a long, full life. Others died far, far too young. Some sat in these very pews on Sundays. Others never darkened the door of any church. Some died long ago. Some died last month. Some knew they were dying. Others died suddenly and shockingly.
But as different as they all are, they all have something in common. They are loved. They are loved by us. They are loved by God. As God is always with us, they are always with us.
Here in church, we recognize this. Here, we "join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven," as the Great Thanksgiving puts it. This is a thin place between earth and heaven. They are here, that great company, just on the other side of a thin, invisible wall. We can't hear them, we can't see them. At least, most of the time. But they are here.
There is something we do at a funeral which means a great deal to me. It's near the end of the service. It's part of what is called "the Commendation." We commend the person into God's loving hands with these words: "You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind, and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we shall return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, 'You are dust, and to dust you shall return.' All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."
That is Lent and Easter mixed together.
On Ash Wednesday, we are told, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." On Easter Day, we proclaim, "Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!"
When we make our song the grave, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, we shout our defiance at death itself.
None of us are going to get out of this alive. Death is a given. Ash Wednesday is for real. But so is our Easter shout in the funeral commendation. "Even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."
I know I'm going to die. But life is good, life is a gift, and that alleluia is about defying death.
Resurrection is for real.
Love is stronger than death.
And so we have our beloved names.
All those names.
All those people.
All that love.
They are loved by us.
They are loved by God.
And as God is with us, they are with us....always.