Upbuilding: We Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:9-13

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community celebrates All Saints Sunday.  In worship we will remember, we will name, we will celebrate the lives and new lives of church members and loved ones that have gone onto glory since All Saints Sunday 2013.  All Saints Sunday is an incredibly powerful and incredibly emotional time.  We honor while we continue to grieve.  We grieve and lean into our faith.  We rest in peace that passes all understanding and we claim the assurance that in Christ’s final victory we will worship with our loved ones again.

This All Saints Sunday is especially tender as I will remember Andrew’s brother, Josh, in worship.  Josh passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 29 last December.  Josh was a decorated veteran, serving our country as a Marine and later in the Army as a sharpshooter.  Josh originally enlisted as a cook in the Marines…but that all changed on the day it was the cooks’ turn on the firing range.  Josh made an incredible shot without a scope…from cook to sharpshooter with one shot.  Josh served on numerous tours; as soon as he returned home he asked to be redeployed.  He was committed to the mission, committed to his fellow soldiers, committed to peace.

Josh received an honorable discharge in 2012.  The war, the tours, they changed him.  I believe he suffered from post traumatic stress, though I am not sure he was ever formally diagnosed.  He lived like a vagabond following his discharge – seeking what would be next for him.  He had his future at his fingertips.  Eventually he made his way home, after a year or more on the road, and that is where he died.  We celebrated his life at The National Cemetery in Bushnell in January.

A few weeks ago, knowing that All Saints Sunday was nearing, I asked Andrew if he would like to visit Josh.  He immediately said yes, sharing that Halloween was Josh’s favorite holiday.  Andrew and Josh and Halloween…that’s a serious combination for mischief…the stories Andrew’s mother could tell.  So on Monday we headed to Bushnell with a  pumpkin in tow for Josh.  We entered the cemetery – such hallowed ground – and made our way to Josh’s interment space.  We approached it together and then I wandered away to give Andrew space with his brother.  They shared a conversation – I’m not sure what about.  When I made my way back to them Andrew pointed out that Josh is the youngest person on that row of the columbarium; he is surrounded by World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans.  His life ended far too soon.  Andrew shook his head and the tears began to flow.

As Andrew paced away I took the opportunity to talk with Josh.  I leaned in and thanked him for loving Andrew.  I promised that we would always look after his beloved daughter.  I told him that we remember him often, that we laugh, that we cry.  I told him that we miss him.  I leaned in and kissed his columbarium marker and as I did a tear slid off my face and onto the marble.  It was present for only a moment and then dried…and I received that sign as God’s assurance that in his coming Kingdom there will be no more crying, no more tears.  We will be together before our God.  Together. United.  Whole.

We miss you Josh.  We love you.  You are not forgotten.  Your memory, your service, your sacrifice lives on in us.  We will tell your story.  And we will celebrate your life with our lives.

Thanks be to God for the saints.  Thanks be to God for the promise that we will be united again.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.  Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All the Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.