First Reading Lamentations 3. 17-26, 31-33
We see the agony of the nation of Israel and their grief focussed in on a single individual. In amidst the darkness, crushed and downtrodden, there is still light and hope. Faith rekindles at the thought of God’s love and mercy.
God provides all that his people need. He is the Good Shepherd. He leads us through life, through the valley of death into new life again. He secures us from harm.
Second Reading 1 Peter 1: 3-9
Christians can be glad, even in times of suffering. The dark days are short in comparison with the hope that lies ahead. One day we shall see the Lord.
Gospel Reading John 6: 37-40
No one can lives without food – but life is spiritual not just about a physical existence. Jesus comes to provide bread for the spiritually hungry. He is the giver and the gift. His bread is new life in all its abundance. The bread we feed on, the source of life is through his death. The Eucharist recalls that death, his body given for us, his blood shed for us, and it points us towards the resurrection and the new life to come, which is through him.
‘This is indeed the will of my Father that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’ John 6: 40
Yesterday and today across the world-wide Church, Christians have been remembering the feast days of All Saints and All Souls – the start of our 4-week long journey towards Advent – including Remembrance Sunday and our own annual Memorial Service, as we reflect upon the Kingdom of Heaven. Such a special day of remembrance, All Souls has been kept on the 2nd November in England since the 8th century, replacing an earlier pagan Celtic festival of the dead known as Samhain.
From the earliest times, even before Christianity was widespread in England, the changing of the season as we move from summer to winter has prompted reflection upon life’s end and what lies beyond the grave. Perhaps in times when the harvest literally meant life or death – and when that crop had failed and the fear of starvation was real, as the nights drew in and the cold started to bite, people were faced with their mortality and that of those around them.
Near the end of the liturgical year, the Church has wisely taken into account these old traditions and experiences – originally falling at the start of an 8-week period of Advent in preparation for Christmas and the great celebration of new life the incarnation of our Lord heralds. Tonight we pause to recall the names and memories of many people who have been important to our lives – they may have been saints themselves - many of them may not! But they were part of our journey and so we recall their names one by one and offer them and their souls back to God who fashioned them and who saves. Tonight we remember and we give thanks for the promise of heaven, commending those whom we love that have died into the open arms of Jesus upon the cross whose embrace is compassion and whose will is to be reunited with all people in his kingdom – “today you will be with me in paradise”.
This reassurance, which Jesus gives from the cross to the penitent thief, picks up nicely the reassurance we hear in tonight’s Gospel according to John, Chapter 11 (verses 25-26): “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Our Lord goes on to ask, “Do you believe this?”
For Christians there is a certainty of sharing in the life of the Risen Lord Jesus. For us, the grave should hold no fear. Of course, we are only human, and often just a tad imperfect to say the least – and doubts do creep in. It is easy for me to stand and talk about certainties of faith, but it is also true that I recognise that such beliefs come more easily to me than they do for others. And the loss of a loved one can shake us to the core and challenge everything that we believe in and hold dear.
This festival of All Souls, indeed this very Kingdom Season filled with occasions of remembrance, should cause us to ask questions and seek reassurance from the Church, our faith, and the scriptures, God’s Word revealed for us. The Gospel is full of consolation for those filled with grief and for those about to take the final step: “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest”, says Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (11:29). Our Lord also says, “I shall lose not one of all that has been given me, but will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:39) The hope of heaven is right at the heart of the Christian message.
St Paul also understands the challenge of life and death when we writes in his letter to the Romans: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” He goes on to proclaim, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39) Indeed when our time comes, we will find that we are all, every one of us, united forever in the love of Christ.
That love is for all time and eternity and the kingdom promised by Jesus is heaven. But even more than that, the Kingdom promised can be experienced now, today, on earth, here in this place. Christ is with us – we don’t walk this life alone, even if our earthly companion is no longer physically beside us. God doesn’t leave us comfortless. And when we, too, pass from this mortal life there is a place prepared for each and every one of us. That is the faith that I have. That is the hope I offer you, as we remember those this evening whom we have known, loved and lost. Today we remember in the knowledge that Jesus died for us and has experienced death, and offers us forgiveness and has demonstrated the new life of the Kingdom. This is the unique hope of the Christian Faith. Death is not the end, for the Christian there is new life in all its glory and majesty won for us by Jesus. And be in no doubt, that He knows the journey that our loved ones have travelled, and he knows the place which he has prepared for all who trust in him. Amen.
So now, as the people of God in this place, we keep a time of silence as we recall the names of our loved ones before God, and offer their lives, their souls to his providential care.
Let us commend all the faithful departed, to the mercy and protection of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. The names of the faithful departed are read.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord,
and let light perpetual shine upon them.