Commemoration of All Souls – evening
Sunday 4th November 2019
Commemoration of All Souls – evening
Lamentations 3. 17-26, 31-33
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Who do you think you are? – A very popular TV programme, where celebrities are led through a trawl of their own family history to discover hidden facts, hidden personalities, among their ancestors. As modern life encourages us to live at a faster and faster pace, it seems we have become more and more fascinated with our own ‘backstory’. Lots of us do our own research now into family trees and with the computerisation of many historic registers and census documents it has all become more possible to delve into our family histories and discover the secrets of past generations.
Frequently of course, we also uncover past scandals or tragedies… occasionally more pleasant surprises – I remember for example when the Actor, Barbara Windsor discovered she was related to the Artist John Constable; or when Mary Berry discovered that she had a noted Baker in her family tree!
‘Who we are’ is of course determined by who our genetic parents were – and who nurtured and cared for us as we were growing up, which as we know, is not always the same thing. And when we lose a loved one (which I am sure everyone here tonight shares in understanding) it can often feel as though part of ourselves has died with them. The experience of bereavement touches every single one of us. We know in our heads that death is an inevitable part of the human condition, but nothing can prepare us for the depth of our pain and loss felt in the heart. Every loss brings it own unique kind of grieving: whether it is for someone young or old; someone in the prime of life, or someone who has suffered a long and difficult decline. We may be grieving a child, a life partner; someone on the threshold of life with unrealised potential; someone at the end of a long and fulfilled life and career, even the loss of a much loved pet; but whatever our own particular story, it is significant to us. When we have invested so much of ourselves, our love, our hopes, our dreams, in a relationship, then the shattering of that relationship removes the very foundations of our world. And in calling death the enemy, the Bible gives us permission to acknowledge how deeply we have been hurt, and how much we have lost – and to project our rage and anger and lament at God that such a devastation should be visited upon us.
And if we are ever to move on, to rebuild our lives – even though that itself may seem unwelcome for some, we have finally to let go.
And after a time, we begin to find healing. That may be hard for those of you who are in the early weeks and months of loss, ever to believe that you will find healing and happiness. Others may feel, yes, I have begun to rebuild my life – but then discover even after months or years, the sense of loss will suddenly steal up upon you like a great ocean wave, and overwhelm you. An anniversary, some news we long to share, a piece of music or a song, the striking of Big Ben at New Year – can suddenly reveal the rawness of a wound we had thought was beginning to be healed. But we do have to let them go – for only in this way can love truly endure.
This time of year is also the time when the Church celebrates the communion of Saints, known and unknown, ordinary and extraordinary – men, women and children and young people who experience God’s cherishing and live in the light of his presence. It declares to us that nothing is truly lost. Our loved ones live on in our hearts, and we give thanks to God for every remembrance of them. It is a curious thought that just as we were once held in love by our parents before our birth, so we in turn hold them in love once they pass beyond this earthly world.
Just as we carry the genetic information that gives us a family resemblance; so too we carry with us a trace of that self-giving love and compassion and mutual interdependence that Christians believe characterises the relationship between God and Jesus Christ.
And if there is any reason to embrace the future with hope, it can only be because of what happened one Friday afternoon, when the sky turned black, and Jesus gave himself over to his Father and God met him on the other side of death and raised him to new life. And so the heart of darkness, of loss and bereavement, has become for us too, as for Jesus, the very place where life and hope are born.
This is the ground of hope – that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and that loss is only the prelude to gain and life.
And that can give us the courage to hand over not only our loved ones but to begin to let go of our own selves too. For those who have learnt best how to die are those who have learnt to let go, in the course of their life, of a thousand small attachments.
Who do you think you are? Know that you are beloved of God, and nothing can separate you from that love, neither death, nor life…. nor anything else in all creation.
Thanks be to God. Amen