All Saints by the Lake, Dorval
November 6, 2022
Almost three years ago now, as the world shut down in the face of COVID-19, a small group of people began to meet every day on Zoom at 5:00 PM to pray the service of Evening Prayer out of the Book of Alternative Services. In the middle of the service, we stop and share our prayer concerns – large and small, serious and frivolous, personal and global. It began, if I’m being honest, out of an impulse largely born of panic, as I wondered how on earth to do my job as a parish priest and keep the congregation together if we were not allowed to physically be in the building. For the first few weeks, I prepared the slides and led the service every day. Now, we have something like eight or ten people who at one time or another have shared this responsibility of leadership, and it’s Stacey Neale who does most of the work of scheduling and preparing templates, drawing on many resources beyond the BAS.
At one point a year or more ago, Bill Wilson christened this group the “Zoomites”, by analogy with the various biblical tribes such as Moabites and Canaanites and so forth. They are truly an extraordinary collection of people (of saints) – most from our parish, but some from others in the Diocese, some tuning in from as far away as Florida and Vancouver as they have traveled or moved away. Most are in their seventies or eighties, but at least one mother of young children is a faithful participant. They have become fast friends and true prayer warriors, a testament to the power of community and of commitment to daily prayer.
And almost every evening, in one of the little boxes on the Zoom screen, sat David and Sylvia Tomsons. Despite the strain of Sylvia’s cancer treatments, they were invariably overflowing with gratitude for the beauties of nature, the love of family, the hard work of the medical personnel who were caring for them, and the prayers of the group.
And when Dave logged on again a week ago Friday, for the first time since Sylvia’s sudden death the previous Tuesday, he was alone in that box, but it was still labeled “Sylvia & David.”
“Blessed,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, “are you who weep now.”
There was something exquisitely poignant, for all of the faithful Zoomites, about seeing Sylvia’s name still there on the screen, when she has gone on to her larger life in God. For all its many drawbacks, Zoom does allow the saints to connect across distances of space in ways that wouldn’t be possible without it. And perhaps that allows us to get a little closer to understanding how we also connect across distances of time, with those we love who are now separated from us by the veil between the living and the dead – and those who will come after us, who are equally and likewise saints.
Luke’s blessings and woes in today’s gospel passage sound daunting. Who really wants to be hungry or poor (and Luke, unlike Matthew, doesn’t soften it with “poor in spirit”) in order to receive a blessing? Who wants to hear that those of us who are rich and full and laughing, will soon receive woe?
But perhaps these difficult sayings are less a list of impossible behavioural commands, and more of a catalogue of the places that God has promised to show up.
It’s easy to think that God must be with the rich, the powerful, and the happy – after all, how else would they be endowed with the blessings of wealth, power, status, and comfort?
But Jesus will have none of this. Jesus insists that God shows up with those who are broken, hurting, and in need, with those who are persecuted, with those who forgive and pray for their enemies, and with those who give to the needy until it hurts.
I know for a fact that God shows up at Evening Prayer – even, perhaps especially, when the things we are praying about are hard and heavy, when we are accompanying two deeply beloved saints through the chemo journey of one of them, and then comforting one as we grieve the loss of the other.
I’m not going to preach Sylvia’s funeral sermon here – that will happen at 11 am on Saturday, December 10, and you all are warmly invited. But I will say that Sylvia was the humblest, most self-effacing saint you will ever encounter, and we could all do a great deal worse than to emulate her warmth, generosity, and love.
On All Saints’ Sunday, the cycle of time comes full circle and we remember that our death is simply our birth into eternity, and that our baptism encompasses both birth and death. And so, it is not at all unfitting that as we grieve the fresh loss of Sylvia and remember all our own losses, recent and long ago, we also welcome a new, young member in the person of two-year-old Kaylie Fishwick, who will be reborn in the waters of baptism in just a few minutes. Kaylie’s great-grandmother, Joyce Rogers, was a longstanding saint of St. Andrew & St. Mark’s church, and her brother Jaxson was among the first babies I baptized after arriving here four years ago.
In the prayer after the baptism, we will pray to God for Kaylie that God will give her “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” In other words, we will pray that Kaylie, like all the saints, past, present, and yet to come, will learn to see as God sees: to love the wonder of creation, to explore the mysteries of life and love, and to recognize God in the places where God has promised to show up: among the poor, the hungry, the mourners, and all the saints who do wild and foolish things for God.
And the prayers of the Zoomites will continue to uphold the church, and remind us that the communion of saints stretches across time and space and bridges the gap between us and eternity.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine; alleluia! alleluia!
Welcome, Kaylie, into that fellowship, and may you be a saint like Sylvia; and more importantly, may you be exactly the kind of saint that God has called you, and only you, to be.