Text: 1 Kings 5:1-14
The story of Naaman was one of my favorite growing up as a kid. Our church had a children’s library, and there was a cartoon picture book of Naaman’s story. I remember reading it over and over, mainly looking at the pictures. Naaman had all these sores over his body, and the pictures showed him in so much pain. I remember the expressions of him being so angry and confused when he was told to go wash in the Jordan River 7 times. And I remember his rejoicing when he saw the sores fall off and disappear from his body…the expression of pure joy and happiness.
As a kid, I remember wondering and thinking if such miraculous healing like this was true, and in the innocence or naiveté of my childhood, I believed, “God can do that? How awesome!” I was just in awe of the idea that God could heal Naaman so easily, so completely……all he had to do is trust…”wash and be clean.”
We sit here on this day, All Saints’ Day, a day we remember both the saints who have died and we the living saints…..the words “wash and be clean” mean something – they matter.
It’s been a tough year for some of us. A really tough year. Lost loved ones…..family and friends. I think a lot of times, we try to down play their loss – but the fact is, those losses are painful. In some shape or form, we either watched our loved ones suffer long-term, or they left us suddenly and tragically. And while we might celebrate the fact that they are now at peace, held in the eternal grace and care of God, and they no longer suffer….but that doesn’t really address the fact that their loss…..it’s painful and continues to be painful for those of us who have been left behind. Their loss, their absence from our lives leaves a hole, a void….it leaves a wound. And I think on this day, “wash and be clean”….we want that. Or maybe, we just don’t want that….we long for it with all our heart and soul. We just want to feel normal again, not so numb, so overwhelmed, so lost, so alone.
I’ve been there too, in that place. The losses of both my parents, and dear friends and mentors along the journey of my life, I hate it. I hate death, I hate the suffering that comes with it, and I hate that the first year of losing someone is as close to being hell on earth than I can imagine. For me, the knowledge they were at peace with God was only so comforting…..because I would’ve much rather had them here on this earth with me. That knowledge never truly drove away the void and wound that was festering inside my heart. “Wash and be clean.” I’m still in awe of that good news, that God heals wounds. But being a bit older, I think I’m a bit more skeptical, because we’re not talking about a picture book I read when I was like 7 years old, we’re talking about the reality of life here. I want to believe it like I did as a kid…..only, I’m not a kid anymore.
It’s All Saints’ Sunday, I feel like it’s one of those days I get a shot to really tell you what the church is and what we do as church is all about. Because today is a day we remember and celebrate the saints of the church – people who throughout the ages have held onto the confession that God takes on our wounds and pain. God suffers. And God stands with us in our suffering and pain. And God makes new. God raises both the dead and the living to new life in Christ. God washes….and makes clean. God heals wounds. And no matter if it takes 7 washings in a dirty river or if it takes 7 years to happen, God promises to heal our wounds of grief and sorrow caused by loss and tragedy. That’s the good news. That’s the confession of the church.
And that confession is proclaimed by the simplest, most seemingly insignificant of people. For Naaman it came from a bunch of slaves and servants. And today, that confession comes through us. We are the church. We are the community that sees people in pain, that sees those internal wounds that so often go unnoticed, and comes near to them. Loves them. Cares for them. Shares that suffering and pain with them. We embrace the hurting, suffer with others without hesitation.
And as the church, we observe traditions….our communal acts in which we experience God’s presence, and God washing our hearts and souls. On this All Saints’ Day….we say a name. We ring a chime. We pray. And we light a candle. We do this to remember those who have died and to give thanks for their presence in our lives and that they now rest in God’s eternal grace and care.
But we also do this for ourselves…..we do these things because we believe the confession of faith: God washes and makes clean. We believe that in this little, seemingly insignificant group of people that Christ is present with us and that when we come together on days like today, when we observe these seemingly ordinary rituals and traditions in worship…lighting a candle, ringing a chime, praying together and saying a name of a loved one – it is Christ that has gathered us together as community….and it is in this community God, through the love and grace of Jesus Christ we share together, God washes and heals the wounds that we bear.
In our sorrow, in the pain of the wounds we bear: Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
In our remembering and celebration of both the dead and living: Thanks be to God.
In our washing and being made clean: Alleluia. Amen.