This weekend I attended a festival celebrating these life-giving global partnerships that included worship, workshops, and updates shared by two pastors visiting from Tanzania. One of the workshops highlighted some of the cultural differences between Americans and Tanzanians – helpful information to have when traveling to a part of the world that is very different from our own. It was led by Pastor Gaville, a pastor of the large Lutheran Cathedral in Iringa.
Pastor Gaville talked about why women and men sit separately in church, how villagers might respond to seeing a person with light skin for the first time, and why it’s important to close the door of a bathroom when the room is not occupied. We chuckled at some of the mistakes we had made.
But everyone in the room really laughed when Pastor Gaville talked about our very different understandings of time. Those who had visited Tanzania had likely experienced the difference between Tanzania time and American time. For example, 10 o’clock worship might actually begin more than an hour later.
Pastor Gaville looked at his watch and shook his head, “American time moves more quickly than Tanzania time,” he lamented. Although our friends in faraway places may have watches and cell phones, he explained, they refuse to let these gadgets control them.
When traveling by foot from one town to another for an appointment, Pastor Gaville explained that he might leave his home fully intending to be on time. However, if he runs into friends or relatives on the way, it would be wrong to rush a conversation with them because of an appointment elsewhere. In Tanzania, a higher value is placed on relationships than punctuality - it is better to be late than rude to a friend or neighbor.
On the way to an appointment, intending to be on time, he explained that it would not be uncommon to be interrupted by a funeral procession. Slow-moving mourners carrying a casket could block the road for hours. It would be disrespectful to hurry them along or to rush past in order to be on time.
You’ve probably had this experience as well. As you make your way to home or work or an appointment, a slow-moving procession of cars making its way to the cemetery stops your progress. You wait as the hearse and the following cars pass, sometimes curious about the person who has died and the family and friends that trickle past. Sometimes, you wait, impatient to be on your way, inconvenienced by death.
In Tanzania, when your travels are interrupted by a funeral procession, Pastor Gaville told us that there was only one thing to do. You take your turn carrying the casket. Whether you knew the person or not, you share the burden of that death upon your shoulders, walking alongside the mourners as if they were your own family. You take your turn carrying the casket.
This is what we do this morning on All Saints’ Sunday as we remember those who have died this past year. We come alongside those who mourn and we help to carry the casket of those who have died because these saints are our members of own family. We are fellow members of the body of Christ.
Some of you may remember LouCille Newcomb. She’d be the last to admit it but she was an extraordinary woman. At the beginning of January, we celebrated Lou’s life with a funeral here at Salem. The next day we traveled an hour away to Rush City where she was to be buried. I thought there might be a few friends and family from Rush City at the cemetery – folks who hadn’t been able to get down here for the funeral because of the snowy weather– but it was just LouCille’s two surviving children, a granddaughter, the funeral director and me. The funeral director backed the hearse as close as he could to the gravesite but there was still a lot of icy, uneven ground between the two. “Okay,” he said, pointing from the hearse to the open grave, “we just have to move the casket over there.” I looked around to see who he meant by “we,” thinking there must be a few strong cemetery workers behind me ready to help. Or even one strong cemetery worker. But by “we,” the funeral director meant the five of us. By “we,” he meant me. So I grabbed tight to a handle on that casket and helped to carry it and its precious contents to their final resting place.
I did this not because I was the pastor, not because LouCille was a close personal friend or relative, but I did it because it needed to be done – and because LouCille was a saint, a saint I was lucky to encounter on life’s road.
We slow down to give thanks for LouCille and an unbearably long list of others this morning -- the ones we knew well and the ones whose names are unfamiliar, those from this congregation and those whose names and memories you carry in your hearts.
Our text this morning from the Revelation to John indicates that, at the end of time, we will be gathered together with all the saints, those who have gone before us, those who stand next to us, those who have come after us, from every tribe and every nation. (I know now that our brothers and sisters from Tanzanian might be a little late.) Most of these saints gathered around the throne of the Lamb will be unknown to us. But they will all be known and precious to God.
Today we have an opportunity carry the casket of our saints. To bear one another’s grief as if it were our own. To laugh and to celebrate and to mourn. As we read the names of those who have died in the past year, we anticipate that great day when we will be reunited with them -- for just as surely as we are joined with Christ in death, we are joined with Christ in resurrection and new life. Thanks be to God!
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Wednesday Festival: Taking Turns
Pastor Lynn, who blogs at New Every Morning, shares an excerpt from her sermon for All Saints' Sunday. She indicates that she's "normally squeamish" about posting her sermons, but this is in response to several requests. Clearly, the requesters heard something special! If you would like to comment on this post, please do so in the comments here or on the original blog post. You may also include a link to your own blog post, if you prefer to respond that way.