I was scheduled to preach the sermon at our church on 2nd November – All Souls Day. I was pretty excited about it. It was coming together well, words jumping out of the pages as I dug through my Bible to excavate the message I was hearing snatches of. The passage to be read that week was the opening verses of Hebrews 12.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us run…
But then we got the phone call, and instead of spending that Saturday practising my sermon on our balcony, we were walking with family behind the hearse, making the final journey in this life with my husband’s grandmother, saying goodbye in the best way we knew how.
I read a facebook post from Kelley Nikondeha some time around then, which spoke about how she valued the space created in the church calendar for All Saints and All Souls, as a time set aside for grief and lament. It was timely. Here was the reminder that we are part of a tradition that creates space for mourning, for coming together to cry unashamed tears as we swap stories of the ones lost to us – at least for now – and hold hands as we watch that first shovel of dirt be thrown into the grave.
From dust you came.
I’ve thought a lot in the days since about the idea of legacy. As one matriarch passed away, I was remembering my own grandmothers. My sister in law stood up at the wake, and spoke of food as she spoke of Mormor. It was a story of a life lived in simple connection to the earth, of nothing being wasted, of good things being shared, of treats for Christmas and birthdays, of gathering the goodness of the countryside. It was a story of hospitality and stewardship.
I recall my own grandmothers most often in two places: when I’m in the kitchen, or when I’m surrounded by family. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence of their shared generation and similar cultures, that all three women would leave such similar legacies, but I wonder if there’s not something more? There is eternal significance in gathering together around the table.
Here is community and family, here is abundance shared and goodness celebrated.
Taste and see. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Today is the feast day of St Martin of Tours. In Denmark, they celebrated last night, feasting on duck for Mortensaften, a nod to the humble priest who tried to avoid being made bishop by hiding amongst the rowdy geese who were not ashamed to give his hiding place away.
My parents in law were visiting this weekend, so we pushed the evening back a day further and Rasmus stood at the stove cooking our duck while I put our wee girl to bed upstairs. And then we ate together, celebrating the life of a man we actually know very little about. A Roman soldier. A man who gave half his cloak to a homeless man in a snow storm, and that night saw Jesus in a dream proclaiming that it was he himself that Martin had shared his cloak with.
I ate that delicious meal with family, sneaking upstairs every little while to check on my sleeping babe. And I thought of St Martin, the soldier, the generous tearer of decent cloaks, the one trying to hide from fame amongst the farmyard birds. For all he might have achieved as a priest or bishop, this is somehow his greatest legacy – this gathering together around the table, with food and family. He stands alongside Mormor and my Granny and my Nan to say, Come, let’s eat together.
If I have a favourite verse in the Bible, it might be this: “Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:12)
The morning of St Martin’s Day, we eat man-shaped sweet bread buns – a German tradition according to my brief scan of the internet. And in that same scan, I discover that there is a new pilgrim route, running through Luxembourg to Trier in Germany, and named for St Martin of Tours. Here I was thinking this celebration was something I was importing to this new country of mine, but he was already here all along.
I daydream about walking his path next year, Kaya on my back maybe, perhaps some leftover roast duck in our lunch box to stop and enjoy on the way. Maybe I’ll invite along some friends, and we can talk on the way about the ones who went before us, the ones who’ve shaped us, the legacies they left.