Isaiah 25: 6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations, he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25: 6-8)

It never ceases to amaze me how young children can watch the same video over and over again many times. There are not many movies I would ever care to watch a second or third time. But as I think about it, there are a select few. I can be channel surfing and if I happen upon When Harry Met Sally or Hoosiers, invariably I will stop and watch the familiar story unwind from the point I drop in. Another is the classic film Casablanca. I watched this wonderful black and white movie a couple of weeks ago for at least the eighth time. It is a great film with storied actors, drama, tension, intrigue…and an unforgettable closing scene in which Humphrey Bogart says goodbye to Ingrid Bergman on a foggy airport tarmac as a plane revs up its engines for take off in the background.

Do you remember it? Bogart and Bergman met and fell in love in prewar Paris. But when they parted, there were no goodbyes. She had simply disappeared without explanation, and their relationship ended as an unfinished story. Because there had been no goodbye, both were left with wounds which had never quite healed. However fate intervenes in Casablanca where they meet again under complicated circumstances during World War II. Bogart is now the owner of a nightclub in German occupied Casablanca, when Bergman surprisingly arrives with her husband, a Czech resistance fighter who is being hunted by the Nazis.

Bogie plays the part of a hardboiled cynic. “I stick my neck out for no one. I am the only cause I’m interested in,” he says. But then he does go and stick his neck out – because love is more powerful than cynicism or hurt. By circumstance, he has in his possession a valuable, official letter of transit for two people to leave Casablanca. It is a way out of danger. In the climatic closing scene, he and Bergman and her husband meet at the airport to escape the country. It is only at the very last moment that Bogie reveals to Bergman she will be leaving with her husband while he stays behind.

“You’re getting on the plane where you belong,” Bogie tells her. “Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You are part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”

She tearfully protests. “But I said I would never leave you.” “And you never will,” Bogie says. “I’ve got a job to do, too, Ilsa. Where I’m going you cannot follow. What I’ve got to do you cannot be a part of. I’m not good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Bergman begins to cry. “No, no,” she says, and then Bogie delivers that famous goodbye line: “Here’s looking at you kid.” And as they part and we see Bergman and her husband climb the stairs onto the plane, the music plays softly….

“You must remember this,

A kiss is still a kiss,

A sigh is still a sigh,

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by.

It is a memorable and touching farewell scene. Perhaps because for most of us there have been difficult, personal goodbyes in our own lives. Times we have said goodbye with a lump in our throat…when your child went go off to college, when you moved from one job to another and left some friends behind, when you stood beside a burial plot of a cemetery or memorial garden.

Today is All Saints Sunday. The day when we remember those persons we have had to say goodbye to this past year: mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, grandfathers and grandmothers, sons and daughters, close friends. They have left their footprints on our hearts. We remember them for the ways in which they nurtured and shaped us; for the things they taught us; for the understanding they brought to our lives, for laughter that was shared, and for the meaning they invested into our lives.

It is a memorable and touching farewell scene. Perhaps because for most of us there have been difficult, personal goodbyes in our own lives. Times we have said goodbye with a lump in our throat…when your child went go off to college, when you moved from one job to another and left some friends behind, when you stood beside a burial plot of a cemetery or memorial garden.

Today is All Saints Sunday. The day when we remember those persons we have had to say goodbye to this past year: mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, grandfathers and grandmothers, sons and daughters, close friends. They have left their footprints on our hearts. We remember them for the ways in which they nurtured and shaped us; for the things they taught us; for the understanding they brought to our lives, for laughter that was shared, and for the meaning they invested into our lives.

The loss of a person we have shared our life with can pierce our hearts. And the healing of a sad heart involves the slow process of connecting over and over again with our departed loved one through memories. These memories are like pictures we put in a scrapbook. They are our most precious keepsakes, most precious because they remind us of we are who and what we love.

We remember best when we remember fully. I would suggest that our memories should be whole and honest, not be given over to a sentimentality that is devoid of the real stuff of life.

In a book on my shelf, there is a letter that a woman named Adela wrote to her husband. She fought cancer for the three and a half years they were married. Shortly before she died, she wrote this note to her husband, asking him to remember her as she really was. She said:

“Please, when I die remember that I was no hero, that I couldn’t always accept God’s will, that I was a sinner, that I failed in love and service to others, that I knew despair, depression, fear and doubt…Remember too, that I loved laughter better than tears, that you can die with cancer but you can also live with it and joke about it…And remember that God loves us even when we don’t love him, and that in the church you never stand alone; that hope is greater than despair and faith is greater than fear, and that God’s power and kingdom one day will be victorious over everything.” (I Tell You a Mystery, p. 62-63)

One day…one day…that is the day Isaiah points us to in the beautiful passage we read. This passage holds out a promise for us that is rich in imagery and hope. The hope for that day…that one day…when there will be a feast on top of God’s mountain, where all of God’s people will sit down at a great banquet table laden with rich food and well-aged wines. The words of Isaiah were so evocative that centuries later in the New Testament, John of Patmos borrowed from Isaiah’s vision, writing in the Book of Revelation: “See the home of God is among mortals. God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death will be no more.”

That’s the hope and vision toward which we stretch on All Saints Sunday. That there is more to life with God than what we know of life on this earth. And that it is a good life to come. Deep down in our souls, we know or for some of us, want to believe and hope, that just as surely each of our lives comes from God, each of our lives will return to God.

Thornton Wilder hinted strongly at this in his play, Our Town. In Act III the stage manager says: “Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars…everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something deep down that’s eternal about every human being.”

Thomas Lynch is a poet, author and undertaker. By virtue of his profession he has had the opportunity to reflect long on the nature of how we look at death and honor those who have died. He wrote down his thoughts in his book, The Undertaking. In one essay he asks: What makes a good funeral? And then answers:, “A good funeral is one that gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”

Bill Ritter was the minister of the Methodist church across the street from the Presbyterian Church I served in Michigan. At a luncheon one time, I listened as he described what he considered to be a good funeral in terms of his own.

“When I die,” he said, “I want someone who knows me to offer a simple word of appreciation for my life, along with a few good stories from my life. Hopefully, someone will say that in some small way I made a difference. And then let someone reassure my family and friends with the promises of Christ. Tell them I am not on my way to becoming some vaporous spirit, absorbed into the cosmic breath of life. Tell them I am not merely one small river being swallowed up into a great ocean of infinity, or one brief spark being returned to some celestial bonfire. Tell them that if there was anything about me that was precious in this life, there’s a darn good chance that it will be precious in the next life. And tell them that I expect to be known by those who I have ‘loved long since and lost awhile.’ And let the organ play the great hymns of the faith, some with all the stops let out. And if there’s a choir, let them sing “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” from Brahms’ Requiem…as long there’s at least one tenor who will promise to enjoy the ‘High A’ as much as I once did.”

Bill is a minister, but I would encourage every one of us to write down our thoughts and preferences for what we would want included in our own memorial service. I can tell you that it is a great gift to your family. Your service will be more meaningful to your loved ones when they know it includes your favorite scripture and your favorite hymns.

Finally, to close, I want to invite you to do something. Picture in your mind’s eye a piece of paper, if you will. Picture also a pen. Now picture yourself making a list…a list of names. It is a list you are going to add to from time to time and keep with you over time. In fact, when your life has ended and you have to leave this earth, you will take this list with you.

Now, I know. I know. When you get to heaven’s gate, St. Peter’s going to say, “Look you know the rules. You came into the world with nothing, and you’ve got to leave it with nothing.” But then he will ask, “So what’s that in your hand?”

And you will say, “Well, it’s just a list.”

“A list?”

“Yes, just a list of some names.”

“So let me see it.”

“Well it’s just a list of the names of folks who helped me along the way. People who, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have learned what it means to love and would never have made it through life the same way.”

To which St. Pete will say, “I still want to see it.”

So you will give it to him, and he will smile and say, “I know ‘em all. In fact on my way here to the gate, I passed by this group. They were painting a great, big sign to hang over the street. I didn’t see it real close up, but it looked like to me they were fixin’ to write WELCOME HOME.” (More or less as told by Fred Craddock in Craddock Stories, p. 152-153)

By God’s grace, our most cherished goodbyes are not final. The fundamental thing of our faith tells us we never really lose those dear to us. One day, one day we will join with them at God’s great banquet table for a great feast. You must remember this.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.