The communion of saints is an active category of faith for me—helping me remember I’m part of a story bigger than my life, my time in ministry, my years on earth.
Three decades ago I threw myself into ministry, wanting to add value, make a difference, and change things that needed hanging. I worked and I overworked. It was the communion of saints that called me to view this passion differently. Celebrating lives gone before me with their own dreams, hard work and passion, I recognized my life was a nano second of light on the Milky Way. It was part of something so much bigger, and it was our common direction and investment that created enough light to illumine a summer night sky.
In these pandemic times I counsel ministers to pace themselves—to be a careful steward of their limited resources in a time of stress, adaptation, and learning. Some set that aside and continue on their way to becoming a shooting star. They cannot sustain the pace they set for themselves. While I like seeing shooting stars in that summer night sky, I don’t like thinking they are ministers shining brightly and burning out too fast, all alone.
Let’s look at the readings.
Rev. 7:9-17 Blessing. Honour. Glory. And Power be unto you. Notice there is no longing to return and finish what the gathered throng left undone in their ministries. There is no regret, no seeking credit, no blame, no “why didn’t I think of that?” They are fully present in a glory that lacks nothing and includes them. Not surprisingly, this is one of my favorite texts to sing in Handel’s Messiah. But more than once, when we got to that part, some great voices had nothing left. It was the vintage voices who paced themselves through a long Messiah season who brought it home in the end.
1 John 3:1-3 See what love the Father has given us,: that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. We do not need our individual glories, achievements, or excellences. This “other thing” is everything. It’s where we’ve been going all along. Running faster adds nothing. Ultimately this gift is given—no matter how fast or slow, how perfectly or imperfectly, how much or how little we did—we are still children of God.
Matt. 5:1-12 Blessed are they. As if to make the point again, Jesus shows the unusual measures of success that generate God’s blessing. Discipleship is a strange life. And ministry is hard work. What matters in the end confounds us all and comforts us all.
I’m getting older. I just want to be there with everybody else, in the Communion of Saints singing “blessing and honour be unto you.” I want to sing my part with all the other parts that go to that moment on the last page of Handel’s score where the sopranos hit that high “A” and start an avalanche of descending runs of “Amen” through all the voices, and the notes run down one after the other like blessings running down the sides of our lives, bringing us home where we live and belong, in the communion of saints.
Pace yourselves in ministry. We are nano seconds of light that reveal the Milky Way. We are tumbling notes of glory not of our own making. We are each of us, unique, and none of us alone. We are children of God and there are no favorites. Pace yourselves. We all get there. Amen.
Diane Strickland is approaching her 33rd year as an ordained minister now serving in The United Church of Canada as retired clergy. She is a Certified Community and Workplace Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist-Therapist, and Critical Incident Responder in private practice.
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