The Invisible String

[From the Children’s Message, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst]

Liza and Jeremy, the twins, were asleep one calm and quiet night. Suddenly, it began to rain very hard. Thunder rumbled until it got so loud that it woke them up. “Mommy, Mommy!” they cried out as they ran to her. “Don’t worry, you two! It’s just the storm making all that noise. Go back to bed.” “We want to stay close to you,” said Jeremy. “We’re scared!” Mom said, “You know we’re always together, no matter what.” “But how can we be together when you’re out here and we’re in bed?” said Liza. Mom held something right in front of them and said, “This is how.”

Rubbing their sleepy eyes, the twins came closer to see what Mom was holding. “I was about your age when my Mommy first told me about the INVISIBLE STRING.” “I don’t see a string,” said Jeremy. “You don’t need to see the Invisible String. People who love each other are always connected by a very special String made of love.” “But if you can’t see it, how do you know it’s there?” asked Liza. “Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it with your heart and know that you are always connected to everyone you love.” “When you’re at school and you miss me, your love travels all the way along with String until I feel it tug on my heart.” “And when you tug it right back, we feel it in our hearts,” said Jeremy.

“Does Jasper the cat have an Invisible String?” Liza asked. “She sure does,” said Mom. “And best friends like me and Lucy?” asked Liza. “Best friends too!” “How far can the string reach?” “Anywhere and everywhere,” Mom said. “Would it reach me if I were a submarine captain deep in the ocean?” asked Jeremy. “Yes,” Mom said. “Even there.” “Or a mountain climber?” “Even there.” “A ballerina in France?” “Even there.” “A jungle explorer?” “Even there.” “How about an astronaut in space?” “Yes, even there.” Then Jeremy quietly asked, “Can my string reach all the way to Uncle Brian in Heaven?” “Yes . . . even there.” “Does the string go away when you’re mad at us?” “Never,” said Mom. “Love is stronger than anger, and as long as love is in your heart, the String will always be there.” “Even when you get older and can’t agree about things like what movie to see . . . or who gets to ride in the front seat . . . or what time to go to bed. Oh! That’s right! You two should be in bed!”

And with that, they all laughed as Mom chased the twins back to their beds. Within a few minutes, they were asleep even though the storm was still making the same noise outside. As they slept, they started dreaming of all the Invisible Strings they have, and all the Strings their friends have and their friends have and their friends have until everyone in the whole world was connected by Invisible Strings. And from deep inside, they now could clearly see, no one is ever alone.

[A sermon preached on Revelation 7: 9-17 and Matthew 5:4 at Bush Hill Presbyterian Church on All Saints’ Sunday.]

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Admittedly, I have a pretty major sweet tooth, but as I joined in the celebrations this week, my excitement went far beyond my love of all things chocolate. For me, it’s all about the costumes! Of course, there’s something to be said for the classics – pirates, witches, pumpkins, cowboys – they’re all tried and true. But if your neighborhood was anything like mine this year, we saw quite a few Wonder Women and many a Moana. And I have to tell you, it got me thinking. . .

Halloween is one of the few opportunities we have to try on a totally different identity. For one night and one night only, we can be anyone we want to be. It’s a chance to say who we are, to imagine who we might be, to share what frightens us or makes us laugh, to show off our cleverness and creativity or to pay homage to our heroes. In some ways, picking out a Halloween costume lends itself to even larger questions as we consider who we are and who we want to be, questions that require contextualization and an awareness of our past in order to understand our present, questions that we wrestle with today as part of All Saints’ Sunday.

As we gather to worship today, we remember who we’ve been as people of faith throughout the ages in order to envision who we will be as the church in our own time and place. In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been, and so remembering and celebrating the lessons passed down to us by those who’ve guided and shaped us along the way is a critical step in paving our path forward.

One of the reasons those popular Moana costumes got me thinking, actually, is that her story seems to demonstrate this better than any of the other Disney heroines to date. At every critical juncture of Moana’s journey, reminders of the past inspire her and propel her onward even in the face of great obstacles. For those of you unfamiliar with this past year’s family favorite, let me give you a little background. Moana is the daughter of the island’s chief, and her father is focused on helping her become the leader her people will need, even if that means sacrificing the part of herself that loves the ocean. Though Moana is drawn to the sea and longs to set sail, her father insists that the water beyond the reef is far too dangerous and forbids her from going near it. Yet, as the island falls prey to an evil curse, Moana realizes that her people’s only hope is for her to sail across the sea to set things right.

What ultimately gives her the courage to ignore her father’s warnings and set off on this perilous adventure is the influence of her grandmother, who shares Moana’s love for the sea. Throughout the film, Grandma Tala is a source of inspiration as Moana wrestles with her identity as a leader. Grandma Tala passes the story of creation and the mythical stories of the gods down to Moana. She reminds her that she is part of a long line of navigators who sailed to farthest corners of the world. She encourages her calling and grounds her in the rich history of their tribe. Her dying words are a charge to Moana to venture beyond the reef in order to dispel the curse and restore the island’s verdant splendor. Her necklace equips Moana for the task alongside Grandma Tala’s promise to always be with her. And true to her word, when Moana is at her most discouraged, when all hope is lost and she’s about to give up, Grandma Tala’s spirit comes to her and sings her the “Song of the Ancestors,” inviting her to remember who she is, to hear afresh the story of her people, and to claim her place alongside the great voyagers who have gone before her.

What Grandma Tala and Moana both know is that our past deeply informs our future. What sustains Moana on the journey is the witness of the saints who have spoken words of truth, guidance, encouragement, and hope into her life. And what she learns, what we discover through her story, is that even in our moments of greatest need and deepest doubt, the wisdom and love of those who have gone before will always remain with us. After all, I’m willing to bet that all of us have a Grandma Tala in our lives, someone who’s nurtured us and mentored us and cheered us on, someone who believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves, someone whose presence remains with us and whose legacy lives on through us.

As theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “Although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they still live in us. Who knows what ‘the communion of the saints’ means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.”

Like the invisible string that connects us beyond time and space, the love and the lessons that the saints have offered us tug at our hearts and call us into continued community with those who have passed on, those whose absence remains heart-wrenching no matter how many years pass or how far removed we are from the grieving process. I’m convinced that’s why Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These memories we hold in our hearts continually connect us to those we love, offering comfort, reassurance, peace, and blessing, even as we grieve.

And one place where that connection is particularly poignant is here at Christ’s table. Sharing the Lord’s Supper with one another is one of the ways that, through Christ, we are united with one another and with the great cloud of witnesses that’s gone before us. The bread and the cup are those invisible strings of love that cut across that great dividing line to bring us into communion with the heavenly host as we receive a foretaste of the world to come. Like John’s great vision in the passage from Revelation that we read this morning, Christ meets us here at table and offers us a glimpse of the heavenly realm. Here we remember the story of our faith, passed down from generation to generation. Here we ourselves join with the company of saints surrounding the throne, sharing a meal together, and proclaiming God’s glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might.

God will gather to this table saints living and dead, people of every nation, tribe, and language, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, people of every race, socio-economic background, gender identity and sexual orientation, people who’ve been marginalized and people in positions of power and privilege, everyone, everywhere, united as one people and gathered together as one worshiping community, through Christ our Lord. It’s a vision of unity, of a world free of division, free of hatred and oppression, free of hunger and thirst and tears. It’s a vision of God’s heart wherein we all find welcome. Friends, within this simple meal, there is an abundant feast. Within this fleeting glimpse, there is an inner homecoming. But only through this act of great remembrance can we find our place in the story, proclaiming a hope that is greater than death and a love that will not let us go. Amen.