All Saints’ Sunday
It has been a week of mourning and remembering.
When we gathered together in worship last Sunday, the horrific massacre of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, gunned down while they worshipped, was so new and so raw we didn’t yet know the names of those who died or were injured. All we could do was pray for them as an anonymous group.
By Sunday evening we began to hear the names, the stories, the details of the lives lost in the most deadly act of anti-Semitism in our country’s history.
At an interfaith vigil at The Temple on Tuesday, the names of those who died in Pittsburgh were read, and a candle lit in memory of each of those lives. At a Shabbat service we attended Friday evening at Temple Sinai we heard the names once more.
Those 11 names were not the only ones I heard read in worship this week.
On Friday morning, I and five others from St. Dunstan’s attended a service at the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center at Clark Atlanta University to remember the 634 people who were lynched in the state of Georgia from 1866 to 1964.
Fulton County was the lynching leader, with 35 of these horrific murders happening in this county in which we worship today.
Over 95 percent of those who were lynched were blacks, tortured and murdered by mobs of angry whites, who committed these heinous acts with the certainty that they would never be held accountable by any court of law.
Friday morning’s service was entitled “Calling Their Names: Remembering Georgia’s Lynched.” We were each given a 12-page booklet, filled with name after name, two and three columns deep on each page.
We were all assigned pages to read aloud. The reading was like a choral round, one group beginning to read, then another joining in, then another and another and another. At one point I simply stopped reading, closed my eyes, and listened.
The sound washed over me – an African drum beating a rhythm of remembrance overlaid with layers and layers of voices, chanting names, interspersed over and over again with the words “unnamed Negro, unnamed Negro, unnamed Negro.”
Each sound in that cacophony represented an act of unspeakable violence. Each named or nameless victim pointed to our country’s abiding sin of white supremacy, an evil that is alive and well and thriving today.
This is All Saints’ Sunday, the day that we remember the names of those who have died. In a few moments at the altar we will hear the reading of more names – those we love who are no longer with us, those buried in our memorial garden, and this year, those who died from acts of hate and violence.
All Saints’ Sunday is not a day that we remember the superstars of the faith. It is a time to remember the ordinary men and women throughout history who have lived lives of quiet faithfulness.
They are the ones of whom scripture says “there is no memory; they have perished as if they never existed; they have become as though they were never born.
“But these also were godly ones,” scripture reminds us. “Their righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their glory will never be blotted out.”
History may forget them, but God knows each and every name.
Of course, all of us are destined to become part of a forgotten past. But I think there is a difference in becoming part of the great history of time, and dying a death that erases one’s dignity, that treats one as a lesser human being, one not deserving of remembrance.
That’s why reading the names of those murdered last week is so important. A man infested with the evil sickness of anti-Semitism said those lives were not important. At hundreds of worship services across the country attended by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, we say otherwise.
The same is true of recovering the names of those killed by lynching.
Last spring in Montgomery, Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened. The memorial commemorates African American victims of lynching from 1877 to 1950.
It took six years to research and document lynchings in 12 southern states. The memorial contains more than 4,000 names of those killed at the hands of angry mobs. Water cascading down a 100-foot wall honors the memory of all those undocumented victims, a number impossible to calculate.
Writer Pete Candler says “the memorial invites you to participate in the resurrection of forgotten names.
“Perhaps most profoundly, it is the cemetery that the descendants of lynching victims never had,” he adds. “The biggest gift the memorial gives them is the public restoration of their memory, the return of their names – names no longer fettered by either iron chains or oblivion.”
The small memorial bearing 634 names unveiled at the Absalom Jones Center on Friday does the same.
All Saints’ Sunday is not only for remembering those who have died. It is also a time for us to remember that we are all called to live as saints here and now.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells us how to do that.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
With these words Jesus gives us a vivid picture of how we are to live in the reign of God. It’s an alternative, subversive way of life, one that invariably goes against the predominant values and ways of the culture.
In the world as God would have us live, love trumps hate every time. Everyone is treated as a beloved neighbor. God’s love is indiscriminate – all people are beloved children of God.
Jesus also reminds us where we will find God – among the poor and the hungry, with those who mourn, with those who are hated and reviled, excluded and marginalized.
We will find God with those who are hated because of the color of their skin, or who they love, or the way that they worship.
We’ll find God with immigrant children ripped away from their parents by our sinful government, and with the parents who grieve for them.
God is present in the caravan of refugees, predominantly women and children, slowly making their way on foot to this country, so desperate for a better life that they are willing to risk the dangerous journey to a place where they will not be welcomed.
These are today’s saints.
New York Times’ columnist William Rhoden asked these questions in a recent column.
“What are you doing for the liberation of your people?” he asks. “What are you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?”
Those are good questions for all of God’s people to ask ourselves.
What are we doing to help bring about God’s kingdom? How are we breaking down barriers that divide God’s people? How are we following Jesus’ commands to treat all of our neighbors as God’s beloved children?
Friday’s service at the Absalom Jones Center was an effort to make reparations for sins past, and to move us closer to God’s kingdom.
The center’s director Catherine Meeks, said this about the memorial:
“We hope that those who are gathered here today will join together in standing against fear, violence, and the fragmentation that destroys community. We hope that all who hear of this work will join with us and commit to doing their best to help create the Beloved Community.”
A young Jewish girl makes the same plea in a letter written to members of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh:
“I am Jewish and I am in fourth grade,” she writes. “I am very mad and very sad. And if anyone is reading this, I just want to say I will honor and pray for those who got injured or died or helped.
“When something like this happens, we need to make the good voices louder than the bad voices.”
This All Saints’ Sunday may we all find our good voices, and raise them loud and strong, standing up for the good and right and true, combatting the sickness and hate which have infected our nation, and moving us closer to God’s dream of a land of liberation, justice, and peace.