This past Sunday, I got to try on one of Hickory Neck’s traditions. For the past several years, every All Saints Sunday, the congregation has been invited to tie a ribbon on the altar rail in honor of saints who have gone before. To be honest, before our liturgies started, I was not sure how the liturgical action would go. I had imagined all sorts of reasons it might be awkward: I didn’t think our early, reserved worshipers would be that interested; I worried that the ribbons would be messy, making communion at the rail difficult; I wondered if the symbolism would work in our space. Happily, I was wrong on all accounts.
Instead, the liturgical symbolism was potent. As I watched countless people kneel at the rail, tying on the ribbons, many with tears streaming down their faces, I realized how easy it is for me to forget the pain of grief that people struggle with every day. When we see a well-dressed person at church on Sunday, we forget that there is a unique, sometimes painful story underneath appearances. As I looked at ribbons draped on the altar rail, I imagined the bodies of the saints, draped on the entrance of the heavenly banquet, having given their lives to love and witness. As my mind struggled with the messiness of the rail, my heart could see the messiness of life, clinging to the very altar where we kneel not just for solace and pardon, but for strength and renewal. The liturgical action created a beautiful moment that was overwhelmingly powerful.
Today, I woke up to the news of election returns. Being a pastor of a diverse congregation, I know there are hearts that are relieved, hearts that are satisfied, and hearts that are saddened, fearful, and disappointed. As I process that reality today, I am reminded of those ribbons, dripping from the altar of church. I am reminded of the saints that have gone before, who have waded through their own times of conflict. I am reminded of the fact that on Sunday, each worshiper will be bringing a story to the altar that I will never know fully. I am reminded of the fact that our church offers a rail where we all kneel or stand, in all of life’s messiness, longing for something bigger and with greater meaning than we can give each other in our limited humanity.
As I got ready for the day this morning, my two-year old sat in the floor of our bedroom with some books. I was still processing that image of All Saints Day when I heard her singing from one of her books. “He’s got my brothers and my sisters in his hands…he’s got the whole world in his hands.” Her sweet voice brought me to tears as I realized the deep wisdom in her, perhaps unintended, words. In this messiness of life, there will be days that are really complicated, confusing, and hard. But as a person of faith, I also trust that the Lord our God is holding us in God’s hands, tending not just to me, but to my brothers and my sisters. For today, that is all I can ask for.