By Grace Sears
This text is excerpted from a sermon delivered at the annual requiem Mass of the Living Church Foundation at Chapel House, San Antonio, on October 20.
In recent weeks, towns all over Kentucky were celebrating the harvest season. My city, Berea, boasts a “Spoonbread Festival”; others offer Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Festivals, the Casey County Apple Festival, Daniel Boone Days, and even a Woolly Worm Festival. Like many other Americans, people in my state revel in heaps of pumpkins, baskets of apples, and jugs of cider.
I submit that when the Living Church Foundation celebrates a requiem Mass each fall, we are celebrating another kind of harvest: a roll call of Christians whose lives have been fruitful in ways that nourish God’s people today.
When Samuel Harris and John Fulton began a 24-page weekly publication in 1878 and named it The Living Church, they could not foresee an enterprise that includes a full-color magazine, online news of the Anglican Communion, the Covenant blog, podcasts, The Episcopal Musician’s Handbook, Daily Devotions, and conferences with multiple partners. Harris and Fulton were bold entrepreneurs, and their work bore fruit.
The Living Church is heir also to the Morehouses, father and son; Boone Porter and others who invested their lives in this ministry; to the donors, great and small, who have undergirded the ministry through times of war, depression, inflation, and controversy.
Although the requiem liturgy contemplates death and sorrow, our annual remembrance should also be a thanksgiving, celebrating all that we have received from those who sustained and handed down a faithful witness called The Living Church for the past 144 years.
In the gospels, Jesus urges his followers to open an investment account in heaven, an account that will not plummet in hard times, or be siphoned away by fees or fraud. To us, there seems to be an impenetrable barrier between our mortal lives and heaven, but to Jesus the barrier is porous and interactive. Our efforts to spread Christ’s kingdom register on the other side of that barrier as “treasure” that cannot be stolen (Luke 12:33). The prayers of the saints rise as incense. And God is actively providing daily bread for us, as well as food for the birds.
We gather in a sacred space each year, remembering saints who are gone from us but alive to God. Quantum physicists tell us that subatomic particles that once were together still reflect each other’s movements when they are far apart. It makes me wonder if we are more connected than we realize to the people and places that preceded us. It is at the table of the Lord that I am transported over and over to a table in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and all the iterations of that table.
Isaiah promises another table: a great thanksgiving feast, with wine and rich food, when all God’s people will be united, and death with be swallowed up forever (Isa. 25:6-8). In St. Paul’s great exposition of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:54, he echoes Isaiah: Death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory.
Then he adds a corollary: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV).
Jesus pleads with us down the centuries to let go of our obsessions with food and clothing and other goods and instead trust in God’s care, for “your Father knows that you need them. But seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:30-32).
Thus we give thanks for God’s provision now, yet yearn for a greater festival:
Even so, Lord, quickly come
To thy final harvest home.
Gather thou thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin.
There, forever purified
In thy presence to abide:
Come with all thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
Hymnal 1982, No. 290
Dr. Grace Sears is the retiring vice president of the Living Church Foundation, past president of the Order of the Daughters of the King, and editor of its magazine, The Royal Cross.