Remembering with Gratitude

Remembering with Gratitude

by Rev. Dr. Matthew Williams, Lead Pastor

Glory to God and praise and love

be now and ever given

by saints below and saints above,

the Church in earth and heaven.[1]

So concludes Charles Wesley’s venerable hymn, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The hallowed vision of saints robed in white, genuflecting, and joining together in a chorus of praise around a resplendent heavenly throne is as powerful as it is alluring. It is a vision of those who have gone before us. It is a song of praise to a God who is faithful. It connects us with those who have departed, yet live eternally.

Trinity will be celebrating the Feast of All Saints on Sunday, November 6. The All Saints celebration is for all of us—for the church, for remembering the people we loved and who were important to us. It is those people who made an impact in our lives and who now reside in the presence of The Holy Trinity in the Church triumphant.

You are invited to bring those people into your memory for this special service of worship. To date, we will be celebrating 33 people who have gone on before us to the church triumphant over this past year. We will read their names, ring bells, and illumine the altar with candles to commemorate their lives and our memories of them. All of their families have been invited to attend this sacred service and resident clergy of Trinity who are able will participate. In our hearts, we will remember all those loved ones that reside in the depths of who we are. In addition, you will be invited to speak their names aloud during the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.

Remembering others always bring tender moments. For some, these are moments of great joy as we recall and rest in the eternal promises of God. Though there is death, there is no sting. That though there is the grave, it has no victory. 

Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences. It is often very lonely and long process. Many of us have awakened on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marveled at how the sun can rise another day and the Earth can continue to turn after our world has been abruptly destroyed. These times of grief mark dim chapters in the human experience. Over time, the grief process leads us to remember stories—stories of people, stories of life, and stories of faith. All Saints Sunday is a day to recall not just the image of the departed but their stories. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words to his niece, Renate Bethge, and her husband, who was Bonhoeffer’s close friend, Eberhard, on Christmas Eve, 1943, from his prison cell: “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love…. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain…. the dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.”[2]

Gratitude Changes the pangs of memory. All Saints Sunday comes to us each year as we begin a season of gratitude. Living a life of gratitude is a work in progress, not a one-time event. Gratitude is one of the marks of humility, ever moving our hearts to truly search ourselves and know ourselves, and to be part of the thankful people that come and raise the song of harvest home.[3]

This is where All Saints’ Day comes to our aid. We remember and are grateful for those who have gone before us. There is no chaos but rather blessedness. The ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. Yet, it changes us. The celebration of all the Saints is the chance to be present in our grief, reflecting on our memories in the quietness of our hearts, turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect, and doing so in the presence of Almighty God.

The death of someone close changes something deep inside. When his dear friend Charles Williams died, C. S. Lewis wrote, “No event has so corroborated my faith in the next world as Williams did simply by dying. When the idea of death and the idea of Williams thus met in my mind, it was the idea of death that changed.”[4]

The magnificent Trinity sanctuary on All Saints Sunday is the place where we all will enter that sheltered and quiet heart space of our own, at the same time, in the same place. As you recall the faces and recollections of your dearest departed before your mind’s eye, cherishing the chance to do so peacefully and uninterrupted, your neighbor will be more than likely doing the same. We will enter the valley of the shadow of death together, and walk through it in solidarity with one another. As we partake of the Holy Eucharist, we will remember that death does not have the final say. As the Psalmist states: “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for thou are with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”

Praise to the Spirit of life,
all praise to the fount of our being,
light that now lightens all,
life that in all now abides.
Hail, glad festival day!
Blest day to be hallowed forever,
day wherein Christ arose,
breaking the kingdom of death.[5]

God does not leave us in the valley of the shadow of death. God walks with us through it. As we enter into this season of gratitude, let us thank God for God’s Divine Presence that is always with us.

[1] “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” Charles Wesley, 1749.

[2] Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (2011), Touchstone, 176-177.

[3] “Come Ye Thankful People Come,” Henry Alford, 1844.

[4] Robert McAfee Brown, “Meditation on a Particular Death,” The Pseudonyms of God, p. 159

[5] Hail Thee Festival Day!, Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus, translated from The English Hymnal, 1906.