If you’ve ever been in a room when a baby is being born, you know that there is a lot to pay attention to but perhaps the most important is to listen for a cry- because a cry is a sign that the baby has breath, it’s a sign that this tiny pair of lungs that developed in liquid can, in this critical moment of meeting air, figure out how to take in air and breathe it out. It’s a holy relief to hear that first cry and know this child can breathe.
And that’s how we spend our whole lives- we take air in and we turn it into something. We inhale and then we can breathe it out into words or song that connect us to each other and to God. We inhale and can take that air and convert the oxygen into energy to work to build the kingdom and to love our neighbors. We inhale and exhale in rest, in sabbath like our Lord did on the 7th day.
The Hebrew people had a name for this- Ruach. It’s original translation was into ‘wind’ but over time it came to be associated with ‘spirit’ and ‘enthusiasm’. It’s a reminder that God’s presence can be as simple as a movement of air.
A few months ago, I got to meet George Taylor and John Boody when they came to visit this space. They are the organ builders who are responsible for creating our new organ that our capital campaign is raising money for. I learned from them that an organ is surprisingly simple. An organ works a lot like our lungs- it takes our regular ole New Bern air in and turns it into something sacred. And it doesn’t even take that much air… in fact, most of us have enough breath that if we could take down that largest pipe in our organ and blow into it, we’d get a sound. A pipe organ in all its glory boils down to an instrument of ruach.
Today we remember All Saints, we remember the countless people who practiced their faith before us so that we might know God. The saints we knew and the saints we only heard about, all of them lived a life that proclaimed the gospel so we can be here today. Our faith today in a risen Christ doesn’t exist by accident or luck- it exists because so many generations before us told the story of Jesus in words and actions.
All Saints Day reminds us about how deep and sinuous the connection is between the ordinary and the divine. On the one hand, we sing about the saints of God, ordinary people who live quietly into God’s calling whom we might not recognize as saints until we stopped to talk with them. We hear Jesus’s blessing in the Beatitudes towards the sorts of people who are the opposite of majestic — the meek, those who mourn, those who yearn for God’s spirit, those who give everything to make peace.
But at the same time, we’re reminded of the connection to the majestic. God reminds the prophet Daniel that as earthly kings come and go, God is in control and God’s Kingdom will ultimately win out. The letter to the Ephesians talks about God’s “glorious inheritance among the saints.” Saints, we’re reminded, may look like everyday people, but their lives reflect the light of the Kingdom and reverberate into the heavens themselves.
And when we think about the saints we’ve known and read about, they kind of work the same way as the organ, don’t they? They breathe the same air we do, this ordinary air, and turn it into something sacred — into the soothing voice of a caring friend, the strong voice of a great preacher, the soft voice of a doctor or nurse bringing God’s healing, the booming voice of a prophet speaking truth to power.
But we can’t get through All Saints only thinking this is a day to only look at our past because it’s also just important today to look to the future- to remember the saints to come, the generations to come who we are waiting eagerly to hear them take their first breath. We are the ones they’re depending on.
We are the ones with breath, we are the ones who are blessed to exhale.
In a few moments we will have baptisms. Lillian Francis and Jemimah Talasoe are two infants who not so long ago had to first figure out how to breathe on their own. As Louis Armstrong sang about babies in “What a Wonderful World” Lillian and Jemimah will ‘learn much more than we’ll ever know.’ I pray that they learn from us that their spirit, their ruach is from God and it is here to proclaim the good news.