I’ve been thinking a lot about saints. Not just the “officially recognized” ones—Patrick, Francis, Teresa of Avila, etc. I’ve been thinking about the amazing, ordinary people who guided, shaped, nurtured me … the ones who helped me become the person I am. My grandpa Tom, who showed me unconditional love, acceptance, and grace was a saint in my life. Grandpa’s affirmation of us, even when we were rowdy, was, “You’re doing pretty good.” Another saint, Margaret Marcy—a Methodist local pastor in the town of Mangum, Oklahoma—was the first woman preacher I ever saw. And finally I remember, Laura McCray, the lay leader at Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. When a person who was homeless stopped by the church one day and ate the entire pot of soup that Laura had been cooking for lunch, she started Luke 14:12, a feeding program that continues forty years later. In the late 1950’s Laura was trained in non-violence at the Highlander Folk School. One of her classmates was Rosa Parks.
And then there is my mom, Marty Richardson. Mom died in 1983 at the age of 48. A month after her death, I shared these words with my Nashville congregation:
“My mother died on November 16th. She taught me how to die. She made folks comfortable by telling a story, by patting a back, by squeezing a hand. She loved people almost before they had a chance to love her back. She died as she lived her life … with normality, humor, and great love for her friends and family. She communicated deeply even when she could not talk. The last time I was with her, we sat for many hours and held hands. We were silent and looked into each other’s eyes. Our eyes spoke the words. She would, from time to time, muster the effort to speak. Our last words together—I said, ‘I love you, Mom.’ She answered, ‘I love you, Darlin’.’
“My mom taught me about God-with-us. Mom is with me now. I laugh, and she is laughing with me. I remember, and she is there. I cry, and she cries, too. God with us. God with us in the darkness. God with us in the cold. God with us in the midst of death. God making life come out of death.”
When I was younger, I always thought it was strange how the old ones would talk about the dead like they were still around. And now, I know. These saints of blessed memory sit with us, walk with us, mourn with us, and pray with us. We are “surrounded by … a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), and we can rejoice in their presence.
As we prepare for All Saints Day, November 1, 2020, I invite you to spend some time considering the saints, living and dead, who have guided, nurtured, and shaped you. On All Saints Day, Christians celebrate those who died, and who are present with us, still, a part of the communion of Saints. “All Saints,” as Steve Manskar observes, “reminds us that we stand on the shoulders of all those faithful witnesses who have gone before us; the living and the dead” (UMCDiscipleship.org). Especially if you have lost a beloved one in this past year, I hope you will consider ways to celebrate their life in an All Saints celebration.
In this year of pandemic, many throughout the world have lost loved ones from a distance. Our beloveds have died without us having had the chance to hold their hand, share last words, or sit by their bedside as they die. Family members have not been able to travel to be with other family and friends. Memorial services have, for the most part, been virtual—no potlucks, wakes, or gathering around the grieving. The loss of our rituals on top of the loss of our loved ones—loss building upon loss.
This year’s All Saints observations are also poignant because we have witnessed through the news and social media the calling out of the names of saints from streets all over the United States. We say their names: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and all those names we do not know. We pray for God’s love to encircle their families.
If you don’t have a church family with whom to celebrate All Saints Day, please consider joining us on Facebook or YouTube for an All Saints service from The Upper Room Chapel on Wednesday, November 4, 11:00 a.m. (Central Time).
May the Holy One walk with you through these challenging days. May you be aware of the presence of your saints—those persons, living and dead—who helped make you who you are today. And early in November, let us sing together, “For all the saints who from their labors rest, / who thee by faith before the world confessed, / thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. / Alleluia! Alleluia!” (“For All the Saints” by William Walsham How, 1864.)
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her forthcoming Upper Room book is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.
This article first appeared in From the Center, a monthly email newsletter from The Upper Room curated specifically for the soul care of clergy and church leadership. Subscribe to From the Center here.
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