“… Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so …
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
and death shall be no more …”

I thought of these words, from Dylan Thomas and John Donne respectively, when my friend and colleague, Marcia, died just before this All Saints’ Day.  I think they capture some of the tension I feel between my sense of loss and anger when someone dies and my belief in the promise of fullness of life with God in the communion of saints.

At Marcia’s service, Friday, we were urged not to mourn “like people without hope.”  We have hope and expectation for what is coming.  But the truth is I still hate death.  I hate losing people I love — even as I believe that they are not lost forever — even as I believe that they are still somehow part of my community, in God’s communion of saints.  I still miss them.  I still mourn.  I still get angry.  In fact, as I drive home from any memorial type of service, I generally look for loud, preferably angry, rock music that I can turn up high.  It somehow makes me feel alive.  And it expresses my rage against the dying of the light.

I am not ready to go gently into that good night — however good and wonderful I think it will be.  Though maybe some day I may be.  Maybe that’s even God’s intent.  I think of Wheelock’s poem “Dear Men and Women:”

“In the quiet before cockcrow when the cricket’s
Mandolin falters, when the light of the past
Falling from the high stars yet haunts the earth
And the east quickens, I think of those I love —
Dear men and women no longer with us.

And not in grief or regret merely but rather
With a love that is almost joy I think of them,
Of whom I am part as they of me, and through whom
I am made more wholly one with the pain and the glory,
The heartbreak at the heart of things.

I have learned it from them at last, who am now grown old
A happy man, that the nature of things is tragic
And meaningful beyond words, that to have lived
Even if once only, once and no more,
Will have been — oh, how truly — worth it …”

Really, it’s about what we do with the time we have.  It’s about becoming saints in our own right.  It’s about learning to live with God (and each other).  It’s about living into the community into which our God is calling us.

In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton talks about the holiness of all animate and inanimate beings in the sight of God.  Each created thing, he suggests, is sanctified in being exactly what God created it to be — except people.  Things other than people simply are what they were created to be.  that is their vocation.  People, he suggests, have to learn to be themselves, as God created them to be.

I’m not sure he’s right.  But I do believe that people have a self reflective consciousness unlike anything else we know of.  We have to make real choices, which is what our Prayer Book Catechism says it means to be made in the image of God.  We, like God, make choices that matter.  We can live into being ourselves, as we exist, perhaps, in the mind of God.  Or we can choose to be other, apart from God.  We can create ourselves, as it were, in our own (or some other) image.  Because God leaves us free to be whatever we like.  “But,” Merton says, “we cannot make these choices with impunity.”

Irenaeus says:  “The glory of God is a living person.  Merton says:  “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our identity, our destiny.  … we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.  … The secret of my full identity is hidden in God.  [God] alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be.  But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with God and in God, the work will never be done.”

So that’s our job in this world.  To work together, in the sight of God, to become the people God has created us to be.  And we cannot do this alone.  We have to do it with our God and with each other and with all of those who have gone before to help show us the way — dear men and women all.

We have to work at this together.  Now!  While there is light.  As it says in this morning’s Forward Day By Day:  “… every moment is a moment of decision … Christ[‘s] … hand … is always extended.”  Christ is reaching out to bring us home — if we choose to come home.

Brothers and Sisters, I think that’s the truth about the communion of saints.

That’s the meaning of All Saints’ Day.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer.  Amen.

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