The Commemoration of All Souls
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
2 November 2012, 17:30 (All Souls' Day)
The Commemoration of All Souls
2 November 2012
The Christian Church divides our yearly pilgrimage into different seasons and between All Saints Day on November 1st and the beginning of Advent, we have a period called the Kingdom season.
This culminates in the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church’s year. During this time, a keyword in our worship is ‘remembering’.
What does this remembering do? Does it make any difference?
I know that life today makes enormous demands on our memories: just think of the length of telephone numbers, postcodes, car registration numbers, computer passwords and the complex security codes and checks for telephone and online commerce.
Sometimes it feels that there is just too much information to cope with in modern life.
And to this overload, God comes with simplicity and peace.
God knows us through and through and remembers of what we are made.
Bill Bryson puts it like this:
…for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialised and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, co-operative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally under appreciated state known as existence.
Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don’t actually care about you – indeed, don’t even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.) Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single rigid impulse: to keep you you.
The bad news is that atoms are fickle – fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes into view, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will close you down, then silently disassemble and go off to be other things. And that’s it for you.
At one level we know that this is what life is all about: coming and going, living and dying.
And our secular society is silent and helpless in the face of grief and loss, and the mystery of death itself.
It makes grieving and mourning even harder when there is no public help and sympathy for those who mourn.
Below the surface and glamour of worldly values lies the greater and invisible world of spirit and love. This is the kingdom of God which has conquered and defeated the dust and ashes of temporal living.
The life of God in Jesus opens us up to a new truth and a greater life – as the reading from 1 Peter said: he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
This living hope changes the present and lights the darkest experience, and as that second reading goes on to say: we are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Our lives are not fleeting and meaningless but a part of eternity; as Jesus teaches us in the reading from St John’s Gospel:
…I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Here is the truth and promise that helps us accept that living with grief and loss is part of our human journey.
There is no answer nor bargaining; we can only look beyond what we are and what we know, and allow God and his mercy to touch us.
Coming here this evening provides us with the opportunity to give our lives – and those we miss and mourn so much – back to God.
The candles that we light and the names we hold up to God are an offering – we are letting go, and giving our loved ones back to God – leaving them in his eternal light.
That is the only hope – and it floods our darkness with his light.
As we meet, this beautiful world is racked by war and terror, by natural disasters, want and disease, personal tragedies, pain and fear. There is so much we cannot bear – yet alone understand.
Yet, we have come from God – and we are not the authors of this life and the universe.
Our freedom and our gifts have given us the opportunity to turn our backs on God and the revelation of his mysteries and purposes.
In the strength of our freedom we have to dare to trust.
All our human loving is about giving and losing ourselves in another, and so it is that God comes to us in Jesus as a friend and our eternal hope.
This gift of resurrection is given to us in the darkness, the pain and the abandonment of desolation of Good Friday.
And so at the Presbytery crossing lies the Taizé crucifix – a symbol of God’s promise of love and redemption set in the very heart of torture and death. It is there that we will place our hope.
Here we offer the flickering flames of our lives and those we have loved before the agony and the glory of the cross and its unquenchable light.
Our remembering and our love are precious; they are all that we can offer.
And God promises that he will do the rest – and nothing and no one will be lost.
In this holy time of remembrance, we trust and know that God always remembers; we offer him our lives and this moment, and ask for the prayers of heaven.
O Lord, you have made us very small,
And we bring our years to an end like a tale that is told;
Help us to remember that beyond our brief day
is the eternity of your love, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.