Why Do We Remember the Dead?
A homily by Rev. Tricia Brennan
First Parish Dorchester
October 28, 2018
Why do take time, as we did today, to remember those
we have known and loved who have died?
Why do we light a candle and say their name?
Why do we remember the dead?
Of course we do this because it honors them,
and it honors who they were to us.
They were our parents, siblings, children, friends, heroes/heroines-
who walked this earth with us,
whose life stories intersected with our own,
who touched our lives, shaped our lives.
We have said their names
and there is a power in saying a person’s name I think.
We say their name, we think of them, and it brings them into focus, brings them here in a sense, closer to us than normally.
To remember together, as a community, is especially powerful
for we hear in each other voices the loss and the love,
and are thus reminded that loving and losing loved ones
comes with being human.
As name after name is uttered, it is as if our sanctuary
is filled with a great many presences,
brought forth by our choice to take this time to remember them.
We are doing what human beings have done through all time-
in some sort of ritual, religious or not, remember those now gone,
say their names, tell stories about them, eat the foods they loved.
And thus, we are connected to all who remember the dead.
And we do this, as well, because it reminds us of our common destiny.
It reminds us that our lives are finite,
that some day it will be our name spoken.
Now we are all ages here this morning,
and that reality is felt more keenly by those who’ve lived longer-
but the questions that Freddie asks in the story-
Will we all die? Why are we here? Where will we go when we die?
are worthy questions and come to us at any age.
Those questions and the awareness that our lives will come to an end are a gift because they help us cherish life
and not take a single day for granted.
Daniel told Freddie that giving shade to the people below
was part of his purpose.
What’s a purpose? Freddie asked.
A reason for being, Daniel said.
The world we live in can make it seem that our purpose
is what we accomplish or produce-
and I wouldn’t want to dismiss those things at all-
but nor would I want to minimize
how being simply and fully ourselves,
attuned to the life that flows through us and around us,
enables us to give shade as it were,
to comfort and gladden and strengthen others.
We remember the dead so as to remember
that their lives and reasons for being mattered,
and ours do too.
Does the tree die too? Freddie asks.
Some day, Daniel answered,
but there is something stronger than the tree.
It is life, that lasts forever and we are all part of life.
It is the lives of our beloved dead that we remember.
Our times with them, what they said and did,
how they laughed, what wisdom they imparted.
And though not all the relationships we had with those
we have named were easy or uncomplicated,
over time it is more often the good that we remember.
We draw strength from what was best about them
and use that to chart our lives.
And so strangely, this service of remembering the dead
is more about life than death.
The life force in those we remember has ceased
but life itself carries on, and we are the current bearers.
It is life that connects us to those now gone,
and life that connects us
to each and every living being on our planet now.
We remember the dead so we may love more deeply
and live more joyously.