Lately there has been a growing fascination in death and what comes after. On television, there are several shows focused on this issue. For the past few years, the CW has romanticized death with the Vampire Diaries as part of its evening lineup. Just this fall, NBC has added the new series Dracula. Dracula follows NBC’s long standing Friday evening drama Grimm, which includes a myriad of medieval goblins as part of each episodes cast of characters.
On the reality TV side, TLC regularly broadcasts episodes of Ghost Hunters in which the viewers are invited into the research of professional “ ghost hunters” as they try to prove or disprove whether various buildings throughout the United States are haunted. At the pinnacle of these reality television shows is Theresa Caputo, the self-proclaimed Long Island Medium.
For those who are not familiar with Theresa Caputo, she is a middle-aged, Long Island housewife and mother, who has a personality bigger than life, manifested in a four foot ten inch person with big bleached blonde hair, long, meticulously maintained finger nails and a Long Island accent that cannot be denied. With each episode, viewers watch as Theresa connects through “Spirit” with deceased loved ones during private readings. We are also given the opportunity to follow her during her daily travels, watching as she spontaneously connects with the deceased loved ones of the people she meets on the streets and in the stores where she shops. Is the show entertaining? Oh, YES!! Is she for real? I will leave that open for each viewer to decide. Real or not real aside, what I cannot deny about Ms. Caputo is the message she leaves with all who grieve. There is life after death, and it is good, it is peaceful, and the space between the living and the dead is not far apart.
But we already know this. As Christians we affirm our belief in life after death at baptism and each week with the final words of the Nicene Creed,” We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We also acknowledge the “intermingling” of these two worlds during the Great Thanksgiving when we pray, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name.”
I learned of this greater reality in worship when I was in college. During a winter break, I was the only one to attend a week day Eucharist at the church my family attends. After the service, I apologized to the Priest for his need to hold the service just for me. To this he responded, “our worship is not just about those who sit in the pews but about joining in praise with all the company of heaven, those who have come before us and those who will come after us. “
This is part of what the Feast of All Saints is about. Today serves as a reminder that our journey with God transcends time and place. Today’s celebration is a reminder of how, when we gather for worship each week, we become part of something greater than this world.
I experienced this reality when I was in Israel during my sabbatical. On a cold rainy March day, our group visited the museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed. As I entered the room where the scrolls are on displayed, I was drawn to the scrolls themselves. As I gazed on the ancient parchment and read the translation of familiar words from Isaiah laying before me in their original language, I had this sense of an intimate connection with the people of Qumran and the generations of people ever since who have studied and prayed those same words through the centuries. It was as if they were with me.
This experience is similar to the one I had after touring the Scavi Ruins beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in 2008. After walking the dark musty road some thirty to forty feet below Vatican City, and having stood just a yard or two from the remains of St. Peter, our group ascended into the “basement” of the basilica, and found ourselves in the midst of the papal crypt. Here lay the remains of Popes dating back to the sixteenth century. As I looked down the long corridor of papal sarcophagi, I again sensed I was transcending, not just time and place, but history itself. When I became fully aware of where I was, I felt at one with the centuries of pilgrims, who like me, had come to walk and be part of this hallowed ground. As I walked by the tombs of each Pope, beginning with the tomb of John Paul II, could not help but feel that they were as intimately connected with my spiritual journey as I was with theirs.
This morning, we were invited to bring in pictures of those we love and have died. In a few minutes time, we will be invited to remember and to give thanks for all whose faces surround us this morning by lighting a candle.
I also invite you to open the doorways of your religious imaginations and let your minds and hearts move beyond this time and this place. As you gaze upon the pictures of our loved ones, imagine the chasm between life and death has been filled and those whose pictures we have brought with us today are actually here, part of this time and this place, and like the Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, they too are glorifying God and worshipping with us. I invite you to literally feel and know they are present with us, connecting with us in a way only worshipping God allows.
For this is what our celebration is about, a time to remember that our walk with Christ is one of constant companionship and community, and never one of isolation. It is a walk which links us with both those who are here present with us, with those who will walk after us, and with those who have walked before us. Because through Christ we are intricately connected with the past the present and future as we have been made one with him.
O death,where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians)