This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 11/1/15 as part of our annual Dia de los Muertos service remembering the lives of those who have passed. It’s written for a child-friendly gathering.
It’s always important to learn from our own history and culture as well as the cultures of those who may be different than us. But I think it’s especially important these days, in light of certain people in our country sometimes disparaging folks who may be different, to lift up the strength and values we find in difference. Dia de los Muertos, is a sacred tradition in Mexican communities where we celebrate the life of our ancestors. We often feel grief after someone dies. This holy day doesn’t say we can’t still grieve, but it does teach us to try to celebrate the life of those who were so important to us. Our ancestors live on, in a way, through us – and that is a good reason to celebrate.
This time of year, we remember those we loved who are no longer with us. Earlier, we read the names of those who have died since our last Dia de los Muertos service. It has been a very hard year for our Fellowship, with someone in our community facing such a loss about ever 3 weeks. In my own life, Brian and I have lost two friends in the past two months – both around our own age. With the loss so recent, it can be very hard to get to that place of celebrating the people who touched our lives. In some ways, I can’t yet. I just want to say that because I know everyone will come to this service from a different place, and I want to honor that. But in some ways I can; I can celebrate the laughs, and the lessons, and the hard times we got through, and the easy times we enjoyed. I can celebrate getting to carry a piece of their heart in mine, and maybe, hopefully, figuring out how to share that piece of their heart with you – day by day. And that is a reason to celebrate, to dance, to smile for what once was, and what will never really go away. Love is eternal, and we show it through the pieces of our hearts we give to one another. We can still do that, even when our hearts may still be broken. The human heart is a miracle in that way.
All this month we will be reflecting in worship, in our religious education classes, and in our journey groups, on what would it mean to be a people of ancestors? It’s kind of an odd question because in some ways, regardless of what we do, we are all a people of ancestors. We all come from someone, and that never really goes away. But the spirit of the question is really about, what would it mean if we lived knowing we come from those before us, and maybe live on in their name.
How do we live differently when we keep in mind the people we love, and who loved us? Are we kinder? Are we more forgiving? Do we want to be our best selves in light of what they meant to us, or did for us? We do that with our family or friends in our lives every day. I know when I’m doing something that will get picked up by the news, or when I post something to Facebook or Huffington Post, that my parents may someday see it or read it. I never quite know when they’re going to pay attention, (or find their way to the internet), but I know it could happen at any time. So I try to speak and act publicly in a way that keeps them in mind. My parents are still around – thankfully – but I think it still counts for living in such a way that I remember the people that came before me, who lifted me up, and helped me along life’s path.
… I want to tell you a story now. It’s called “A Lamp in Every Corner.” It’s written by Janeen Grohsmyer, a UU and published in a book of short stories under the same title, and it speaks to this in a different way.
I think about Zora’s lantern from time to time. This story reminds me of a UU summer camp on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine, that some of us here goto. It’s a Summer camp for children, youth and adults. I’ve gone for years, although I haven’t had a chance to go recently. Every night, the last events are evening worship. People line up outside and are given a lantern, and they walk up a stony path to a small chapel and light the way with those lanterns. The chapel itself has no electricity, so the lanterns help everyone see each other while sitting or singing in worship. Have you ever been in worship at night, lit only by fire? I know many of us here have who have attended Fahs Summer camp, or maybe you’ve been to a youth con where this happens. It’s a special and powerful feeling, especially in a world of lightbulbs and smart phones and video games. Going back to natural fire for light can feel magical, right?
I think there’s a way that’s true for going back to our roots, or our source, when we remember living in the light of the people who came before us. The world can be very modern, and shiny, and new sometimes, but there’s something special and powerful about remembering where we came from – and who we came from. The lights can still shine around us, whenever we remember to mindfully reach over for the lantern hanging from the hook and carry it with us consciously.
And some of our ancestors weren’t just a light we can see by. Some of them helped build those churches and congregations that came before us. Some of them nailed the lantern hooks to the walls; some of them built the lanterns we carry today. I look around this room and remember that this main hall was not always here. The chalice on the wall behind me was built by Les Swan. These lecterns and chalices were hand-crafted with love and care. When we’re a people of ancestors, we don’t just come to this space and see 4 walls, red chairs, a rug and wooden lecterns. We see pieces of our history that frame who we are, where we’ve been, and imagine where we may some day go. We live into this religious community remembering the people before us, and hopefully, we bring our best selves – hoping to live in the light of those who came before, and making way for those who will some day take our place. And we make something beautiful through it.
There’s a buddhist parable that’s like this. Some of you have heard this before, which means it’s a great story to share again… (tell story of the drop of water and the wave.)
I love this story. I’m a huge beach-goer, and I think of it often when the sun is glaring off a gorgeous wave, rising and falling. The waves come and go, and gift a certain beauty and character to the ocean that wouldn’t be the same without their passing through. Each of us will be ancestors, or role models, or the hope for another’s heart. May we be so with gladness in our eyes, and a fullness in our hearts for those who helped us along the way.