Answering the roll call in Heaven

Some years ago a group of Christians from the United States visited war-torn Nicaragua. While there, a young man, a member of this group, was killed by the Contras. The group was grieved and confused. The next Sunday a memorial service was held. From the altar the priest said, "The peace of the Lord be with you" and people from the congregation, Nicaraguan people, began to embrace these Americans and say, "Paz" or "peace." These people who had suffered in so many ways were blessing their visitors by passing the peace of Christ. 

During the Communion service there was a pause. The congregation was silent. Then someone called out a name. In one voice everyone responded, "Presente!" or present in English. Another name was called out. Once again the response was, "Presente!" Present, in English. During the service at least twenty names were called out and each time the same response: "Present!" The pastor (Ron DelBene) leading this group of Christians did not understand at first. Then he heard the name Oscar Romero. Suddenly he realized that all the names were those of persons who had died. From that moment on he joined in shouting, "Present!"

"Present" is used to answer roll call. At the Lord's table the word "present" means "in our midst" or "present with us." Shouting "Present!" in this worship service was a way of proclaiming the reality of the communion of saints. (1) that as we gather round the table of the Lord, all the saints of all times and places are present with us, along with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. We remember those persons who have influenced our faith development, who made a difference by their love and presence in our lives, whose presence is still felt in our lives even thought they now rest from their labors. All Saints Sunday is the time to remember and give thanks to God for those who have died in the faith. Keeping this in mind, go with me, now, to the mountain or hill where Jesus was teaching.

Jesus had taken his newly called disciples, up onto a hillside to teach them about his basic principles, or core values, as we may call them today. Jesus had just started his ministry and was becoming well-known. Large crowds were gathering to hear him speak and to witness and to be part of his miracles. He was about to instruct his disciples in what it means to be his followers. However, Jesus delivers his sermon, too, to the large crowd that has gathered. Acres and acres of people. This crowd was a cross section of humanity. There were rich and poor, young and old, different colors and races, successful business men and some who failed no matter what they tried. In fact, the crowd that gathered with Jesus that day represented a scale model of the world.

As different as they all were, Jesus understood that they were all searching for the same thing. They all wanted to be whole and healthy, to be joyful. Isn’t that what we want for ourselves and for those we love?

Unless we see Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, unless we develop a faith relationship with God, the Beatitudes will seem like drivel. It's not what the world has taught us. The fact is that it is Christ who changes us, as it says in our I John reading, so that we are called Children of God …so that we who have set our hopes in Christ.

Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said, for they shall be comforted. In the eyes of the world, this may seem ridiculous. The world usually handles those who mourn by avoiding them. Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. Isn’t that how it goes? We take care of those who mourn by trying to get them out of their mourning condition --to cheer them up, to make them happy. I’ve heard stories from mourners who’ve been told by well-meaning family and friends – it’s been a whole month – its time to be over this and get on with your life. Those who love deeply, grieve deeply. We are never ready to let our loved ones go. At my H.S. class reunion, 7 months after the deaths of my husband and mother, and my extensive body reconstruction following cancer surgery, a classmate thoughtfully said, sorry to hear about all the trauma in your life, but you’re over it now, right? I said, "Friend, you need to know that I will never be over it, but I will adjust and get on with my life."

Jesus says: Blessed are those who mourn. It is through our pain and tears, that God heals our broken hearts. God comes to us where we are - in our pain and grief. Feeling the pain helps us to work through our grief. God, who gave up his own son to die for our sins, knows our pain and suffers with us.

When my husband died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack, the week following my 2nd diagnosis of breast cancer, I was completely devastated. I fell into a black and bottomless pit of seemingly endless pain. I could not imagine how, down through the centuries, others had felt this agonizing, gut-wrenching pain and still survived. I tried to pray for help and I didn’t have any words. Finally, some words came. Help me, God. Help me. They were the only words I could summon from my broken heart and spirit.

To the 1st pastor who called me following my husband’s death, I sobbed, I didn’t need to learn compassion. I already knew it. But never did I imagine the depths of others’ pain until I stood beside my husband’s coffin, greeting them. I saw them then, the other widows and the bereaved parents, the ones with tears streaming down their faces, as they looked in my face and knew my pain. They were the ones whose hearts were filled with the compassion of experience. When they said, I understand your pain, I knew that they did. I knew that their hearts broke again for me.

St. Francis prayed, "O Divine Master, grant that I would not seek so much to be consoled as to console… for it is in giving that we receive."

And so we gather on this All Saints Day, 2005. Those who grieve and those who seek to console, all of us remembering someone we love who has gone before us. We gather like the crowd on the hillside with Jesus, part of a vast cross-section of humanity, crowding around the cross, seeking its comfort, joining with all the other saints. As we gather today around this blessed Table of the Lord, a foretaste of that glorious day, when the one who is seated on the throne will be the only shelter we need, when we will hunger and thirst no more, and the lamb seated at the center of the throne shall be our shepherd, and God shall wipe away all tears from our faces.

"Geddes MacGregor in The Rhythm of God tells of a priest who, when asked, 'How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?' replied, 'There were three old ladies, the janitor, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.' So it is with us here at St. Paul/Mt. Joy today.

As I call the roll of our recently departed dearly beloved, it is for you to answer for them ‘present,’ as truly they are with us today as always when we gather round the table of our Lord`. Lloyd E. Rothhaupt, Sherry Evone Yingling, Flora Hahn, Carroll E. Koontz, Elizabeth A. Buterbaugh, Esther Grace Rothhaupt, Patrick W. Huss, Brady Weikert, H. Marguerite Six, Edward Ray Rothhaupt, Gene R. Spangler, Thelma M. Snyder, Arlene M. Kennell, Mervin S. Eyler, Lindsay Lynn Bowers, Rebecca C. Beamer, M. Blanche Yingling, Kenneth H. Fields, Doris W. Harner, Daniel Ridinger, Charles Sprigg.


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