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This past Thursday I was unpacking my car when I found myself drawn into the stories of the saints.
What my car was full of was, essentially, Incarnation’s go-bag. In the midst of the evacuations, several of us packed up sacred items, vestments, chalices, and historic records into our cars for safekeeping. For four days my car was filled to the top with boxes of service registers and parish archives, along with our jeweled brass processional cross, removed from its staff, safely cushioned in Abigail’s car seat.
We packed those items up in a hurry. But on Thursday, during the unloading, I couldn’t help but leaf through some of the old records. And there they were: names and narratives of the great cloud of witnesses whose prayers have soaked into these wooden walls around us for nearly a century and a half.
There were records of baptisms in the old courthouse by the pioneering missionary James Lloyd Breck and of the decision to build this redwood building. There were stories of great conflicts and great successes. There was the newspaper clipping recounting how this very cross was stolen from the church in 1996 and rediscovered by Marti Kennedy ten years later at a rummage sale. There were vestry minutes full of names of saints like Cedric Johnson and Russell Tye and Frances Spater, who entered into glory just this past year.
We who worship in this congregation today are standing on the shoulders of generations who have come before us. That’s true in every congregation, of course, and not just those with a hundred and fifty years of history. Even a brand new church plant is just another budding branch on a vine that stretches back through the centuries.
Today is All Saints’ Sunday, a day when we celebrate what’s sometimes called the Church Triumphant—that portion of the Body of Christ who have already finished their earthly race and who now cheer for us as we run ours, who pray for us and strengthen us, and whose ranks we ourselves will by God’s grace, we trust, one day join.
We are what’s called the Church Militant, that portion of the church that is still fighting the fight and running the race here on earth. And we come to this day this year on the heels of a week that has been full of displacement and disruption and fear. We come hungry, having missed our congregational Eucharist last Sunday, as more than half of us scrambled out of homes, many not knowing whether or not there would be homes to return to. We come back here today with a complicated mix of exhaustion and trauma and gratitude.
Gratitude for the heroic efforts of firefighters and first responders, shelter staff, and volunteers of all kinds. Celebration, that no lives were lost or even anyone seriously injured, and that the scope of destruction was so much less than it could have been or than it looked, on Saturday and Sunday nights, as if it would be. And yet we’re also painfully aware that while fewer people have lost homes and property in this fire, for those who have, the losses are every bit as devastating. We’re aware that lost wages and spoiled food and evacuation expenses have hit many hard, and the poorest the hardest. And we’re aware that our entire community has experienced a collective reactivation of the trauma of 2017, and that for almost everyone there are psychic and spiritual wounds that can go deep even when they’re not obvious on the surface.
One thing that has been so apparent this crazy week is that we need one another. As a church, and as a whole community, we are in this together. And one of the most obvious ways that God has been present through these fires and outages and evacuations has been in the ways the saints have stepped up to be the hands of God for one another.
Last Sunday, after we secured the church, I put our parish database into a Google spreadsheet and began asking parishioners to help me make calls to find out where everyone was, if they had a safe place to stay, if they needed one, or had one to offer someone else. Within short order more than twenty people had stepped up. Logged into the spreadsheet on my computer I could see multiple cells at once being updated by different people at the same time.
Meanwhile I was having phone calls with fellow clergy from our neighboring congregations and from across our diocese as well as the Diocese of California, working together not only to make sure our own people were OK but also to think about how to be of service to our neighbors. Many of you know Kai Harris, who grew up here at Incarnation and is married to Christy Laborda Harris, rector of our neighbor parish St. Stephen’s in Sebastopol. Kai works for a nonprofit that serves low-income people in Sonoma County. Through their contacts they learned of a group of day laborers from near Geyserville who had evacuated to the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, where there was no official evacuation center and a shortage of supplies and services. Christy made a call to our siblings at Good Shepherd, Cloverdale, and the clergy team there headed over to the Fairgrounds with blankets and supplies. At a time when resources were stretched, it was the network of the church that had people on the ground just where they were needed.
Those are just two ways I saw the communion of saints at work this week. I bet you’ve seen others. And I know each of you in some way has been the hands of God for another person this past week. The Church Militant is on the move, as it has been in every age, loving and serving in the name of Jesus. And as we do, the Church Triumphant is cheering us on.
Just like our ancestors in generations past, we are not assured that things will be easy. We are not assured of an easy road. We will endure trials and temptations. We will sometimes be afraid. But their example is set before us, and they join us and pray for us. And Jesus, our Captain, runs alongside us, to guide and strengthen us until at last we cross the finish line and take our place with all the saints in our true eternal home.