As we approach our observance of All Saints’ Day, I cannot help but reflect on the memorial service held for Larry Howard at Laurel Heights UMC last Saturday. It was one of those occasions that was hard to line up and make happen in my calendar but was absolutely the right place to be. I followed Larry as superintendent of the then-McAllen District, and he was as gracious and wise a predecessor and mentor as I could have had. He encouraged and affirmed me, when I was scared to death. He was kind, smart, and committed to justice. His service gathered former colleagues and included many stories about Larry’s character and legacy as a friend and disciple of Christ.
As I sat, listened, prayed, and sang, I thought about his life, now ended in the visible, concrete ways, ended in ways that leave a gaping hole for the people closest to him. But, as we do, I also reflected on the ways his life continues—both as part of our sure and certain hope of life in the eternal presence of God, and as a part of our memories and the formation he so graciously gave us by living as himself. I reflected, too, on the holy work and privilege of lifting up such a witness, telling the story and marking the time, pointing toward a reality that we trust is true, the reality of love stronger than the grave.
Many pastors report that they’re doing more funerals than ever, and we all know that it’s both some of our most important work and some of the hardest, due to its generally immediate timing and the deep need of the people involved. Funerals don’t ever happen at convenient times in pastors’ or families’ lives. (The only thing worse than that is their not happening at all, which we’ve also experienced, thanks to Covid.) Yet each time we gather in gratitude to remember a life lived in our midst, it is primarily an act of worship that points to a life-giving God. This is the work of the church, and whatever else changes in the world around us, the need for and blessing of this work will not.
I hope that as you remember your own saints in the coming days, you will think of them not as individual bodies who made it on their own. Think of them as vessels and channels for the love of God, poured out into the world. Think of them as present at the bright feast table set by our Christ, where hunger, grief, and pain are no more. Think of them as still kin to you, united over time and space by the immeasurable power of love. We continue to live through tough days, and if we’re on our own, we will surely be lost. The thing is, we know we’re not alone. In memory of the saints you cherish, find a way to share that good news and to make another place at the table.
Grace and peace,