Braiding the Strands: A Homily for Multigenerational Worship

This Sunday is our annual multigenerational "Day of the Dead" service. Weaving the story of "A Gift for Abuelita" through our worship service, we learn about the traditional Mexican "Dia de los Muertos" celebration, and we take time to remember those whom we loved who have passed away.


This practice, of placing pictures on the ofrenda and calling out the names of those we have loved and lost, is one of the most moving and powerful rituals we have in our church. It is sacred. It is holy, this work of remembering. Think of that word itself:  “remembering.” To re-member is to put something back together. It is to take something that has been separated and to make it whole. It is also creating space for someone or something to once again be part of, to belong to, something it once did, but no longer does. To re-member is to make something a member again. A member of our church. A member of our family. A part of our lives.

Rosita remembered her grandmother, her Abuelita, as she braided the strands of yarn together. That braid was important to her. The act of braiding was important to her because her grandmother had taught her how to braid the separate strands into one strong cord. The act of braiding was an act of remembering, of bringing together the separate pieces of her life. Her life with her Abuelita and her life after Abuelita’s death. The Day of the Dead celebration is an annual act of remembering, of bringing loved ones back to the family, of feeling their presence among us.

This week, as I was preparing for this service, I stopped to take a good look at the pictures on my refrigerator door at home. We have a habit of leaving pictures up for a long time. A really long time. On our refrigerator, you’ll see pictures of our daughters when they were little more than babies. We’ve got pictures of friends and relatives when they had a lot more hair than they do now, and a lot fewer wrinkles. Nieces and nephews who have graduated from college peer out of play houses and ride tricycles. Even old Christmas card pictures of friends’ kids whose names I’ve long forgotten. One picture in particular jumped out at me. It was taken more recently. It shows Irene’s mom, who’s now gone, and my mother who is still with us, sitting together and holding our grandson, Jack. The two great-grandmothers have big grins on their faces, as, I’m sure, did the person who took the picture.

All these pictures on the ‘fridge help me to remember. To re-member. Every face has meaning to me. Each person is a part of me, of my braid, woven into my life. And as I thought about this, I realized that my life is not my own. Nor is yours. We are pieced together, membered and re-membered, by the encounters we have with each other, by the mere contact we have in passing and by the deep and abiding relationships we nurture over a lifetime.

I’m reminded of a story that the author Peggy Tabor Millin tells in her book Mary’s Way. [1] She was sitting on a train on a rainy day, and she was focused on the raindrops on the window. She writes:  “Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merged into one for a moment and then divided again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other. I realized then that we never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.” We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.  

Whether we’re captured in a photograph that hangs on someone’s refrigerator for years or we simply smile at someone as we pass by them on the sidewalk, never to be seen again, we leave a trace, a mark. What this means is that, as we move through our days, we aren’t just living our own lives, but we’re also creating the lives of those around us. That’s a tremendous responsibility. And so, the question becomes, how will you touch others today? Will it be lightly or deeply? Carelessly or with careful attention and intention? How will your life be woven into the braid of your parents, your children, your teachers, the cashier at the grocery store, and the guy who cuts you off on the highway?

The faces you see on our ofrenda today are the faces of the people who have left deep marks on our hearts and in our lives. Their love has shaped who we are, and we shaped their lives, too. We carry them with us, as a part of us. And for that we are forever grateful. Just as they left parts of themselves with us, so do we leave parts of ourselves with others. We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.  Let us remember that, today and every day. May we always endeavor to insure that the traces we leave, the marks we make, today and every day, are the best part of ourselves. May the braids we weave be beautiful and strong.

This day, and every day, I wish you peace.  Amen.

[1] As told in Spiritual Literacy, p. 422-23.