“Healing sometimes is about cure, but not always. However, healing is always about wholeness.”
Sermon by Sally Howard at All Saints Church, Pasadena, on Sunday, December 31, 2017.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
This first Sunday after Christmas every year, we celebrate God’s healing power in our lives-the power to make us whole. We celebrate the God who couldn’t bear to stand apart from our pain. Our God moved into the neighborhood to live and die as one of us, and insured that we will never be alone when we suffer. This is a Sunday when we bring our wounds and the wounds of others and the world to this rail, expectant that God will touch our pain through the touch of those who pray for us, that God will fill us with healing light and love.
Healing sometimes is about cure, but it isn’t always about cure. However, healing is always about wholeness… God promises to always make us whole, even if not always cured. God promises to bathe every cell of our bodies in the golden light of God’s Love that no darkness, not even death, can extinguish. And that is why we are here today. To be part of a community of love, to feel God’s love deeply and completely, to remember that we are creatures of Love and Light- to be made whole.
But this Sunday is not like any healing Sunday we’ve had before. Today we come sharing a common and heavy loss. Our hearts are broken and our tears almost run dry as we grieve the passing from this life to the next, of a great spiritual mother, Rev. Zelda Bernice Kennedy. For some of us, Zelda was our first spiritual mother. For all of us her fortitude and spunk were legendary. That’s what it took to be the first woman of color to preside as a senior priest at the altar of this church. A shining woman of extraordinary grace, beauty, and courage, Zelda had one of the biggest hearts that has ever lived this side of heaven.
Isn’t it so fitting that healing Sunday is the first Sunday we are together after her death? This was Zelda’s favorite service of the year. Did you know that it was Zelda who brought healing at the rail from this once a year service, to a weekly offering at almost all services all year long? This Sunday is about the healing Light that blazed out of the darkness to show us the way to the light. And that was Zelda, all about healing and journeying towards the light. Even as her body was failing and she was not being “cured,” she was being a true, wholehearted, healed child of God. Filled with Love and Light, she brought us together.
It’s amazing that in the mystery of life and death—to which Zelda was so attuned–she knew that we would be here together this day. She knew that we would need to be with each other, and love each other and help each other find our way through this darkness to the light.
This week, many of you have shared your experiences of Zelda, through the vigils and in emails and on social media. I’d like to share some of what you have expressed:
Many of you described the way Zelda always showed up—in key moments she was just there, right? One of our youth said, “She was always willing to take time and listen.” Another said, “Once, she drove all the way to Camp Stevens to be with us for a seekers retreat, when another priest couldn’t go. I’ll never forget that.” I remember that she came back from that retreat raving about how fabulous our youth and CYF staff were. Another person described Zelda as “the heart and soul of this place; she gave me a vision of who God was and how the church’s love should be a healing force in the world.”
Your words also described Zelda’s great depth of love and care, revealed not only by showing up, but by getting into the messiness of life with people. One of you said, “Zelda always represented hope. You could share your anger and your tears, and somehow end up laughing again.” Another said, “Zelda gave us a little sliver of herself to take back into the world.” She knew that brokenness and blessing must be held together, like two wings of a bird, in order to fly.
Zelda’s love was tangible and overflowing.
“I loved her more than anybody,” said one person.
“She was my spiritual Jedi,” said another.
A young child said, “Zelda had magic fingers.”
One person said that hearing Zelda pray, “was like a river of love flowing through her then washing over us. It swept me away.”
And people talked again and again about her hugs! “I’m a hugger,” she would say, and I don’t think I ever saw a single person decline her. In the tradition of the Jesus she loved and followed, Zelda knew and embodied the healing touch of God, whether at this rail or in her ever wonderful hugs. She was connected to the Source, and God’s energy and love flowed through her touch.
And so many people talked about Zelda’s joy. When Zelda smiled, she beamed us right up to the stratosphere. Zelda was full of joy and we will forever picture her dancing down this aisle, dancing in Sweetland hall, dancing before Easter services. She danced her way into all of our hearts. She knew how to receive God’s generous bounty, and from that abundance, she lavished her joy on us- gift after gift after gift.
Irenaeus said, “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive,” and Zelda was fully alive. Knowing she was a child and heiress of God, she was set free to be her true self. When we connect to God’s love for us, how utterly cherished and precious we are to God, we naturally flow with love and graciousness towards each other. We were drawn to her energy and it warmed us to the core.
Like the Jesus she loved, she helped us find our own belovedness, our true child-of-God selves. She saw in each of us, our unique image of God self. She taught us to live out our God-created identity by caring for each other, by being generous and gracious toward each other, as God is towards us, generous even when we are at our worst. In Zelda’s words, “When we share comfort, healing, forgiveness, and acceptance with one another, we become one together, leaning and depending on one another. As community, we learn that we do not have to bear our burdens alone. We have each other.”
One of our sisters likened Zelda to the person on the runway who guides the planes into the gate after they have landed. She was always pointing beyond herself to God. She not only believed in the Incarnation, she knew it was our deepest calling to be the good news of Jesus today–to be the hands, feet, mind, and heart of Christ to all people-and to each other. As Zelda preached in her final sermon with us, “no matter where you are, what matters is how you care.” Zelda was an amazing healer because she knew that she was loved by God, and she just let that love flow through her onto everyone else. She became God’s presence to us. God was her vine and she was a branch of God’s love to us.
We are also that love that abides in God’s love, for each other. We are an intentional community of Love. Every time we say we love each other, God is there. Every time we hug each other, God’s love is present, and Zelda’s love is mixed in there too. Zelda retired in June, knowing that she had contributed all she had to building this House of Love we call All Saints Church. She expected we would continue to hug each other on the lawn, to ask “how are you?” and really mean it, to say “I love you” to each other- deeply and often. To ignite the spark of the divine in each other and in all we meet. And now she has gone from this earth, all the while feeling our love deeply, knowing that we are holding onto being a community of Love, and that we are impacting others with our love.
And we are. The most amazing thing happened this week as you shared your love for Zelda on Facebook. People outside of the All Saints Community began to post on Mike’s Facebook page, drawn by the power of your love. They said things like “ we don’t know Rev Zelda and we don’t know your church but we can feel your love.” They were drawn to the healing love that is at the center of this community.
This is how it works people! When we dwell in God’s love for us and let it overflow to each other, other people are drawn to us—just like we were drawn to Zelda. Because we are all hungry and thirsty to drink in the deep, deep well of God’s love. Even as we are grieving, that love that is manifest for Zelda and that we have for each other is clear. We are grieving and we are also a healing presence in the world.
So today we bring our broken hearts to this table and this rail, to receive healing and wholeness. This has been a very difficult year for so many of us! There are other losses, politics of hatred and exclusion, violence, illnesses, loss of jobs and homes, and the groaning of an abused earth. We have other wounds that we carry for ourselves and our loved ones, pain in our hearts or in our bodies. All of it can be brought to this table and rail of healing-all our sadness and anger and hopelessness and guilt, because you are loved beyond all measure, and nothing will ever separate you from the love of God!
In the words, of Marilyn McCord Adams, another great spiritual mother that Mike, Zelda, and I shared, who died earlier this year, “God in Christ crucified insists on swapping cups with us, demands we bring our cups filled with anger and bitterness and tears, because God is hungering and thirsting to take it from us. Not only does God not blame us, God takes ownership for God’s part in creating us as vulnerable creatures. Give it to Me, God says, I can absorb it and transform it into hope and new life.” So come- receive the light and love of God in every cell of your body and in every part of your soul. Receive the Light of God that no darkness can put out.