2015 Annual Conference Worship
Service of Commemoration and Communion
* Bruce Batchelor-Glader
At first the skies were gray and getting darker. As the rain refreshed the ground outside, folks gathered as the community of faith inside of Hoover Auditorium for worship. This is the opening service of commemoration and communion in which the recently departed saints of the church are remembered and honored as we celebrate the faith in Jesus Christ that brings us together each year as a church family.
The Charles Wesley hymn “And Are We Yet Alive” was sung once more as the traditional opening song of the annual conference session. As its words recognize the trials and struggles that take place in a year of ministry, they also celebrate God’s presence with the church through it all: “Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.”
Preparing to preach, Bishop John Hopkins first commented on how the rainfall brought to mind the waters of our baptism. Then he reminded us that we were in the season of Pentecost; it was a good time to acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit released in our midst.
Bishop Hopkins shared a scene from the novel My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok:
Six-year-old Asher is outside with his father and they see a bird lying on its side against the curb.
“‘Is it dead, Papa?’ I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.
‘Yes,’ I heard him say in a sad and distant way.
‘Why did it die?’
‘Everything that lives must die.’
‘You, too, Papa? And Mama?’
‘Yes,’ he said. Then he added in Yiddish, ‘But may it be only after you live a long and good life, my Asher.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘That’s the way [God] made His world, Asher.’
‘So life would be precious, Asher. Something that is yours forever is never precious.’”
This year’s conference theme is one of encouragement, the bishop noted. Jesus is calling us up, to build each other up.
In every memorial service we affirm the reality of our mortality and our belief in the resurrection of the dead. The bishop noted that the reality of our mortality comes to meet us often. While Plato and Socrates believed in the immortality of the soul, Christians believe in the resurrection of the body.
The apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to assure the congregation of the resurrection of the dead.
At the time of its writing the church had no apostolic leader, since Paul had been run out of town. Some members of the church had been persecuted for following Christ.
Many expected Christ to come right away and signs of disappointment were beginning to show.
Paul praises them for their faithfulness and then reassures them of a resurrection faith:
“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (The Message)
Paul goes on to speak of the time when the Master will come for us. Those who have died will be raised first and the rest will be caught in the clouds.
"I want some of that, Jesus,” Hopkins said. “I want some of that now."
“We don't know when the coming of the Lord will come. We want to be ready. The battle has been fought and won. We have nothing to fear.”
Hopkins praised God for the many lives of service, clergy and laity, remembered in worship.
"Our today is brighter because they served yesterday with us. We don't have to wait until we die to taste a bit of heaven. Our Lord is coming; our future is secure.”
The amazing thing about Jesus is that He will love us whether we are ready or not.
Reflecting on his fifty years of marriage to Elaine, the bishop continues to be amazed at her ability to continue to love him, even knowing all of his faults.
"I was humbled by that. Then I realized that Elaine's love wasn't about me. It was about her love for me.”
The bishop concluded his message by sharing the story about a tollbooth attendance who loved their job because they got to practice dancing all day long.
"I know that someday [Elaine and I] won't be able to dance together. But we have tasted a bit of heaven and we are thankful for that."
Bishop Hopkins surprised Elaine with a bouquet of flowers, celebrating the love of Christ that continues to be at work in his marriage and in the work of the church.
The remembrance of the saints was concluded by a glorious celebration of communion that featured gluten-free wafers and worship teams that brought the elements of worship to the rows of Hoover Auditorium.
As pictures and names of the recently departed were displayed, we were reminded of the many ways in which our lives were touched by these men and women of faith.
And, as the service concluded and the choir sang "Just As I Am", the sunlight broke through the clouds. The skies had been gray for only a moment; the sun would shine brightly again.
Bruce Batchelor-Glader is pastor of Pt. Clinton Trinity UMC, Firelands District