We reflect on the legacies of our beloved ancestors through story, song, and ritual.

Interim Minister Rev. Lyn Cox

In northern California near the Pacific Ocean, there are forests of redwood trees. These are majestic and ancient trees. Coast redwoods have been living in that part of the world for 20 million years, and relatives of these trees go back to the time of the dinosaurs.

One of the ways that coast redwood trees reproduce is by sprouting from the root crown of a dying tree. They might sprout up in a straight line along the path of a fallen trunk, or in a circle called a fairy ring around the stump. As the original tree decomposes, the space that’s left and the arrangement of young trees are clues to what was there before. The tree that is absent is visible because of the trees that are present.

I think the same is true for humans. Our communities, families, and friendships are arranged with traces of influence from those who have gone before. Mentors and teachers live on in the debates that they initiated us into. A phrase passed between friends invokes the presence of the person who coined it. We listen to our beloved dead through the human relationships that were fed by their life on earth.

In the gathering music this morning, we heard that “the dead have a pact with the living … They are with us in the home, they are with us in the crowd.” Emotions, values, and skills reach into the future, living on in people who never met the ancestors face-to-face.

A fairy ring of coast redwood trees is beautiful, and a person’s legacy can be beautiful, yet there is also something sad about the empty space. Grief is still present, even when we give thanks for the abundant life that was made possible in the midst of loss.

The coast redwoods have been witness to a lot of history. In times like these, when we may wonder what future historians will make of us, it is good to remember that we are part of a larger story. There have been struggles and setbacks for as long as there have been people. Some of our ancestors helped make advances for health, beauty, or freedom. Some of our ancestors did not. For some of our ancestors, surviving for as long as they did was an act of resistance in itself. We give thanks for the helpful parts, learn from the mistakes, and remember that we have choices about how to respond to the great events of our own time. We have role models of ancestors who did not give up, and neither should we.

When young trees grow together, they can better withstand the wind. They join together in enriching the soil, in being part of an ecosystem of plants, animals, and minerals that nurture each other. Let us gather in circles and grow together, too. Let us support one another, comfort one another, and turn the empty spaces of our grief into something alive.

After service today, there will be an RE gathering in the Fellowship Hall, and there will be space here in the sanctuary for teens and adults to share what’s on their hearts. There is a lot going on in the world and in people’s lives. Gathering in smaller groups makes that easier to bear. You may also be interested in meeting with a Lay Minister. Lay Ministers are trained volunteers who offer peer listening. There are many ways to connect in this community. We give thanks for the ancestors who helped to build and sustain this church.

Those who came before us are with us still. They may have left us challenges or questions. They may have left us to continue their work of justice and compassion. They may have left us with stories of struggle and perseverance that inspire us to find new modes of resilience. Whatever the gifts of the past, may we accept them and use them to build new legacies of love and liberation. So be it. Blessed be. Amen.