What is it that we have to pass on? What is it that really matters? What is it that will last beyond ourselves into the future of the promise of God?
On vacation last summer, as Sarah and I were resting by the riverside, we saw coming up the river a young woman in a large-brimmed straw hat, standing in the middle of a canoe, with a pole in her hand. It was our cousin Mary and she was poling her canoe upriver. She looked, Sarah said, like a picture that could have been out of the 19th century - had she been wearing a long dress instead of a more modern boating costume.
And it was true; Mary was poling up the river just as she had been taught by her grandmother, whose own mother had indeed, pole in hand, in long tweed skirt, a Liberty print blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and a cardigan sweater - and pearls, traveled up that same river, standing in a canoe, propelling herself with a pole.
The skill was taught them by an Ojibwe river guide and canoe builder named Laroque. Great grandmother learned, then grandmother learned; then Grammy taught her daughters and grand daughters. And the knowledge of the river and the skill of the pole were passed along, a living tradition, from generation to generation.
A living tradition is something we pass along, something that gives strength, something that gives skill and even power, to those coming along.
The first disciples, the witnesses to the life and death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord, passed along what they had seen and what they had heard, what they had touched with their hands and embraced in their arms, to those who came along after them. And what they received they also passed on. To you.
What we have received we must also pass along. And we must decide what matters, what matters most, and that is what we must make sure to share with the new generations that are coming along.
What is it that matters most to us? What is it that will last?
Herbert O’Driscoll spoke to us about this in the middle of winter last year: What we know, what we have received, as church, as the family of God, always sustains us –through these several elements: the sacred Word, the story of the love of God for humankind; the water of Baptism, in which we receive a sign of new life in Christ; the wine and the bread, transformed for us and, received in faith, transforming us into the body of Christ; and then the gift of each other, that Body of which we are all members; and - the Holy Spirit, in which all this lives and moves and has its being.
These are things that we have received, that we live by, that we pass on to the next generation. These things are all gifts given us to give others, to share with them the grace and peace of God.
What we have to pass on is a living faith in a living God. It is renewal, it is new, it is life itself: it is life in Christ, not the old way of law and sin and death, but the way forward into life in Christ, into the kingdom of God that begins now, that indeed is all around us.
Bill Lewellis, a friend of mine, once explained that in the Celtic way of looking at things there is such a thing as a 'thin place', a place where the veil between this world and the next, the earthly realm and the heavenly, is thin and easily passed through. It is as if there were a membrane between the everyday and the eternal, and it is permeable somewhere, sometimes.
Then Bill went on to explain that the 'thin place' is really anywhere we are open to the Spirit, and anytime our hearts are open to Christ. That is where the eternal breaks through to the everyday, and transforms it: where our hearts are open and when we are present to the abundance of grace.
This place, where you and I are now, can be a thin place – a place of God’s abiding.
So is it we have to pass on?
Something that lasts. Something that abides.
We have a pretty good idea, of what lasts: the things we have spoken of, the word, the sacraments, the fellowship, are things that bring us closer to God and carry us forward together in God's mission and God's purpose.
All of these things come to us in the gift of the Spirit. And it is the abiding promise and presence of God that shows us what really lasts, what really gives life meaning. Some things will pass away, good things as they are, for when the time for them is over, they will fade away.
We know that; we look for the things that last, that are our greatest gifts to pass on to those coming along in our midst and coming after us.
What are these lasting gifts?
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
May we live by faith, walk in hope and be renewed in love,
and if it is your will,
grant that this place of your abiding
continue to be a sanctuary and a light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through Jesus Christ.
For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Church, 21405 82nd Place West, Edmonds, Washington, 98026 (425) 778-0371 stalbansedmonds.org