This past Tuesday I had the honor of participating in Raynor D’Andrea’s 7th annual Candlelight Memorial Service at New Life Community Church.  This service took on new meaning in a year when many have been unable to mourn as they normally would, adding another layer of grief to incredibly difficult losses.  Many have reported that the inability to hold full funerals has robbed them of a sense of closure.

The section I read was taken from the Reform Judaism Prayer Book:

We Remember Them by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer

At the rising sun and at its going down;
We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter;
We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring;
We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer;
We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn;
We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends;
We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as
We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength;
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart;
We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make;
We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share;
We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs;
We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as,
We remember them.

The service continued with prayers from various faith traditions and the lighting of five candles: Grief, Courage, Memory, Love and Hope.  The lighting of candles was reminiscent of the Menorah and the Advent wreath.  Congregants were then invited to come forward to light candles of their own.

As the holy days approach, we miss the loved ones who are no longer with us.  Sometimes the losses are fresh.  Sometimes the losses are old, but feel as fresh as when they first occurred.  We remember times spent with friends and family at the Thanksgiving table and around the Christmas tree.

It’s okay to remember and to grieve, but it’s healthy to do so with hope.  We believe in a God who takes care of our loved ones.  Those of us who have lost many loved ones may imagine a large get-together in heaven, where our loved ones are gathered together, saying that they miss us too, but are looking forward to seeing us.

There have been many artistic depictions of the Heavenly Banquet, but they all seem a bit formal to me ~ nothing at all like the warm gatherings of my youth.  I prefer to picture a Heavenly Picnic or Heavenly Barbecue.  The photo above provides an idea of what that might look like (that’s a real installation in Switzerland), while the photo below depicts the basket that God might bring (an actual Ohio building in the shape of a picnic basket).  Our friends and relatives will bring the meals we miss, many which we thought we’d never taste again.  God will bring some fresh-baked manna (which tastes like honey wafers).  Jesus will bring the best wine (even for Methodists).  I’m not sure how the meat thing is going to go, but let’s just say that if anyone is able to perfect a meatless burger that tastes like an actual burger, it’s God.

We may feel alone, but we’re not alone; we’re surrounded by the presence of God.  We may feel that our loved ones are gone, but they have not blinked out of existence, just moved to another plane of existence.  We remember them because they were with us, but also because their memory is with us, and because they are somewhere else.

May these thoughts provide you with solace and hope.

Beginning tomorrow, George Munkenbeck will be filling in for a week-long study called A Week of Thanksgiving.  This study will culminate with the online Thanksgiving Eve Service that George has led faithfully in person for many years.  This will give me a chance to store up inspiration for Advent ~ thank you, George!  I’ll be back with new posts the day after Thanksgiving, when we will also post George’s Advent study on a separate page.
Sunday worship services will continue to be posted as usual.  ~ Rich