By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
Every Memorial Day, my mother made her way to the cemetery to place flowers on her parents’ graves. For me, All Saints’ is the day I feel a similar need. Our son, John Amos, died at the age of 30 on May 2, 2015. He is interred in the columbarium located intentionally next to the baptismal font at Edina Community Lutheran Church. My mom’s potted geraniums don’t quite work there as they did in a cemetery – but lighting a candle in that space and saying a prayer are meaningful alternatives.
This year, I’m remembering especially how much our son loved the Lutheran church. I can’t remember a single time he objected when we said, “It’s time for worship, time for youth group.” He couldn’t wait to go. John was the most positive church person I’ve ever known.
Giving thanks for John this All Saints’ Day has reminded me again how “showing up” matters. The older I get, the more I realize how showing up is often the most important thing we can do. We may not have the right words; we might be late or dressed all wrong. But, our authentic presence often means more than we could have imagined.
LUTHERANS SHOULD HAVE LITTLE trouble understanding how important it is to show up – especially to receive the means of grace. Luther talked a lot about how the gospel comes to us “extra nos” (outside of us). The righteousness of Christ – outside of us – becomes our very own through the grace of God. When we show up for worship, God meets us there; and through the means of grace, we receive Christ’s forgiving and healing presence. We are reminded of who we are: beloved children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.
“Our authentic presence often means more than we could have imagined.”
The world is so effective at proclaiming the religions of consumerism, division, individualism, entertainment, and greed. Worship, for me, awakens and reorients me in the reign of God, empowers me to participate in God’s work, and grafts me once again into God’s alternative narrative of justice and mercy.
Showing up matters. Kathleen Norris, who writes honestly about the journey of faith and doubt, talks about showing up in worship even when she struggles to believe. “I learned to be patient in my doubts and questions, she says, to be vigilant and attentive – not absenting myself from church, but participating even more.”
The Spirit calls us through the gospel – again and again and again. We need preachers to proclaim that word; we need a community willing to pour the water, share wine, break bread, and offer it as gospel to all of us who await with empty hands.