When I was volunteering years ago at a church on the Navajo Nation, one of my responsibilities involved picking up shipments of used clothing at the nearby Post Office and then sorting everything so that we could share this bounty with a needful community.
I’m not sure the Anglos associated with the church fully understood this, but many Navajo were reluctant to avail themselves of this resource because the clothing or footwear might have been donated following someone’s passing. For the Navajo, anything associated with death must be avoided. (If you’d like me to elaborate on this, reach out, and I’ll tell you more.)
Although our cultural upbringing has been different than the Navajo, you and I aren’t always sure what to do with the reality of death. Even now, and in many circles, a grieving family understands that they have about two weeks to mourn, and then they need to get on with life. This rule isn’t announced, of course, but we seem to all know it—and when it’s a grief we’re reckoning with personally, we certainly feel the painful constraints of this unspoken expectation.
The church reckons with death quite differently than our culture does. That’s good, even great, news. And so, with Christians across the country and the ages, this Sunday in worship, we will pause to remember by name those whom we have lost to death in the previous year.
Because we’re not free to light candles at the Ute, we will strike our singing bowl each time we name a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance whose passing in the last twelve months we wish to acknowledge.
In this way, we will honor the gift each of these individuals was and is to us, AND we can live into our Christian identity, which boldly affirms that with God, death is never given the last word. Indeed, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, people who ran the race in their time and who cheer us on as we persevere in ours.
Between now and Sunday, remember all those whose passing has touched your life this year. The ones you recall might not even be people you knew personally, but, say, like the actress Betty White who died in December, were special souls whose God-light warmed and blessed you. (If you are unable to join us on Sunday but would like a name or names lifted up, reach out to me, and I will be sure they are included.)
Our culture may be uneasy around death, but as Christians, we are upheld by the truth proclaimed in Romans that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love we find in and through Jesus Christ. Together this Sunday, let us claim and proclaim the gifts that are ours in faith.