Though folks in America are anticipating a day of Thanksgiving tomorrow, all of us are awaiting the season of Advent, which begins on Sunday – a time when we prepare our hearts and minds to experience anew our God in skin and bone. As I look forward to both Thanksgiving and Advent, oddly enough, my mind returns to All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day is a time of reflection on the great cloud of witness who have gone before us. We remember with gratitude those who have transitioned from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. On a more personal level, we ponder the impact of those who reflected Jesus into our own lives, guiding us on our spiritual path, and making the kingdom life visible, tangible, and real.
Joe Hale, General Secretary Emeritus of the World Methodist Council and a close family friend, died recently. I believe that is why my mind is returning to the themes of All Saints’ Day even as I am preparing to host our family Thanksgiving celebration. This year my thanksgiving is entwined with memories of Joe. His prophetic strength wrapped in the gentleness of his pastoral presence has been a model for me as I have navigated leadership within the Body of Christ. The witness of his self-sacrificial caring for his wife, Mary, challenges me when I find myself drawn toward self-centeredness. The memory of his willingness to risk, to step out, and to trust God returns unbidden to my mind in moments when I’m tempted to shrink from those virtues.
And yet, even in this season of thanksgiving, looking back at All Saints’ Day drives me forward to Advent and the witness of Mary, the ultimate Godbearer. Mary not only bore God to the world in the traditional way we commemorate with nativity scenes and mangers, she was a Godbearer through her prophetic witness of the true nature of the kingdom of God, where the lowly are lifted up and the hungry filled with good things. She was a Godbearer in her faithful bearing of the suffering of her son, staying with him long after the disciples had fled in fear.
As All Saints’ Day mingles with Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, I ponder the way Joe reflected Jesus into my life – the way he was a Godbearer to me and to others. He made following Jesus real for me through the way he quietly accompanied another one of my dear spiritual fathers, Bishop Lawi Imathiu of Kenya as they visited Peter Botha, Apartheid President of South Africa. These two humble men spoke truth to power on behalf of the worldwide Methodist Wesleyan family.
We find ourselves in interesting days. As in every age, there is a need to speak truth to power. There is a need to reflect Jesus into the lives of others. There is a need for Christians everywhere to more fully become Godbearers, making the kingdom life visible, tangible and real. I pray that we do it with as much grace and strength as Joe did.