A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Look around. Here we are surrounded by those we love but see no longer. Only today we catch a glimpse of them. They’re here with us—at our Ofrenda. I suspect there are others in this room as well. Folks whose pictures aren’t on the altar but whose stories we carry in our hearts. Folks whose spirits surround us. All them here in this place at this moment—those whom we love but see no longer. What a great day it is—this Dia de los Muertos! How glad I am to be celebrating it here with you. In this place. At this table. It makes me want to dance.
Today is a day for dancing. Dancing with joy. For we are gathered together at God’s great welcome table. Getting a taste of the banquet God is preparing for us. Living out just a bit the vision the prophet Isaiah foretold.
To the people of Israel, a people besieged and beleaguered, the prophet Isaiah says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines....”
So often the promises and assurances of the prophets and the psalmists seem a bit remote. Distant from the reality of our daily lives.
Sometimes I think it’s that way with the Gospel as well. At least it is for me. I hear the words “paschal mystery” and I wonder what’s that all about. I hear Jesus say in the Gospel of John, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life....” and I find myself asking, “What is he saying?”
And then I meet El Dia de los Muertos and I begin to get a sense of what those promises are all about. Death is not the end of life. You can feel that in this place. You can see that in the pictures gracing our ofrenda. You can hear it in the stories people tell about those they love whom they no longer see. This day points to a fundamental truth of our faith: death does not destroy nor end relationships grounded in love. Those whom we love but see no longer still play a part in our lives.
But there’s something else this day reminds us of—the need to nurture our relationships with those who have gone before us. The importance of remembering and telling the stories of those we love but see no longer, for it is in our remembering that we and they are re-membered in one body.
When my brother and I get together, we tell stories of our parents. He calls them Jane and Jack; I call them Mom and Dad. In the swapping of the stories, we feel their presence. Sometimes we end up talking about how they are still nudging us along. My brother will say to me when I’m trying to neaten things up just a bit, “Summoning your inner Jane are you?” He’s right. I do that. I call on my inner Jane when I need a bit of steadying or a little more order in my life or a reminder of what loving looks like. I call on my inner Jack too. Especially when I start getting a bit too earnest, a bit too serious or a bit too full of myself. He can get me back to real.
Is it that way for you? When you look at a picture or tell a story about someone you love but see no longer, do you find yourself remembering and in the process being connected in a deeper way—one that somehow manages to bridge that gap between life and death? Do you sometimes find yourself guided by those you love but see no longer?
When I look at the pictures on our ofrenda, when I see all the people gathered in this place with us today, the room comes alive. In my head I hear music. I hear the Lord of the Dance singing to us,
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black,
It's hard who dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body, they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance, and I still go on.
"Dance then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the dance," said he,
"And I'll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the dance," said he.
Let’s dance with one another, with those we love but see no longer, and with Jesus, our Lord who invites us into dance.