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Saying Their Names – A Sermon for All Saints

St. Philip Lutheran Church

1 November 2020 + All Saints Day

Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

Eric Garner.

Mike Brown.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

George Floyd.

Most of us have probably heard those names before. You might even be able to link them to a particular city. These are the names of just a few of the black men who have been killed by police in the past several years.

Michelle Cusseaux.

Tanisha Anderson.

Aura Rosser.

Meagan Hockaday.

If you recognize those names, you’re probably in the minority. I didn’t the first time I heard them. They’re also the names of black persons who have been killed by police. The only difference between the two lists...gender.

Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and civil rights advocate, highlights these names in her 2016 TED Talk on the importance of intersectionality - a term used to describe the effects of more than one form of oppression - in this case, racism and sexism. In her talk, Dr. Crenshaw calls our attention to the importance of remembering and saying their names - all their names.

That’s what we do this day - All Saints Day. We speak the names of those who have died. We remember them. The very act of saying their names conjures up memories and ensures that our loved ones are not forgotten. Because, known or unknown to us, everyone is somebody’s loved one. That’s why we speak their names in the context of the community of faith.

This year, like every year, we have more names to add to that list. The names of those violently killed by police - calling our national attention once again to the reality of racism in this country. The names of those who have died from COVID-19 - now nearly a quarter of a million in the US alone, and just over 60 right here in Glenview. And certainly the names of our own loved ones - whose names and faces are perhaps less widely known but no less significant.

We speak their names, and we remember them, and we proclaim our resurrection hope - that even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

There is power in this ritual, and it’s one of my favorite parts of our whole church year - poignant as it is. Hearing the names read reminds us that we are part of the communion of saints, and that gives me great comfort.

On this day, I’m always reminded of words from the Book of Common Prayer: “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead. We remember the saints who have died, and we draw strength from them, from their faith, from the witness of their lives.

We also remember the saints who are living, the ones who surround us in our daily lives and in our worship, the ones who help us to hold our grief collectively.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There is so much to mourn this year. Lives lost to violence and racism. Lives lost to the pandemic. Jobs and incomes lost. Family celebrations and holiday dinners that just won’t be the same.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There is comfort in the communion of saints. It doesn’t take the grief away, but it gives us space to name it and to be supported in community. In times of grief, we draw strength from the communion of saints as we lament the brokenness and devastation of our world and our own human frailty and mortality.

I’ll never forget one of the first times I walked into my home congregation several years ago - the sanctuary surrounded by icons - images of the saints. Everyone from Mary and Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And of course, the saints in the pews, as well. All physical reminders of the great cloud of witnesses that enfold us.

That cloud of witnesses is here too - where decades of faithful disciples have gathered around this table and been washed in this font. The ribbons that bear just a few of their names remind us of their presence with us that continues to inspire our own life of faith.

Dr. Crenshaw ended her TED Talk with a powerful ritual of her own. She took the names of the black women that hardly anyone recognized at the beginning and added them to others in a slideshow. And she invited the audience to shout out their names - loudly, randomly, disorderly - to create “a cacophony of sound” to speak the names of those so easily forgotten and to represent their intention to bear witness to them and to bring them into the light.

I don’t suspect Dr. Crenshaw intended to re-create an All Saints liturgical ritual, but in many ways she did. And it reminds us what this day is all about: naming, remembering, mourning, and being comforted, even in our grief.

Blessed are those who mourn…for grief is not something to be ashamed of or to try to hide. Blessed are those who mourn…

For even at the grave, perhaps especially at the grave, in the midst of our grief, we defiantly make our song:

Alleluia! Alleluia!



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