Sermon All Souls’ Day Fordingbridge 1 November 2015
Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge for All Souls Day on 1St November 2015.
Each of us this evening has come with a story or several stories in our hearts. Those stories are many and varied and tell of the lives of those we love but see no longer. You may think they are ordinary stories of ordinary lives-yes they are; but they are also stories infinitely precious and unique to us.
One of the stories I bring is the story of my mum. Her death when I was 23, was a blow I hadn’t expected. It came suddenly and it took me awhile to realise that I had been robbed of one of my protectors and sustainers during those war and post war years. I was so buttoned up with thoughts of having to be strong for my father that it took me some years to grieve for her. In fact I had not cried for 11 years. And then I met another priest who hadn’t cried for 16 years and with some help from a facilitator we helped each other to let those waters roll!
We have severally said our goodbyes in many ways, maybe many times. For most we have been part of a ritual of saying goodbye at a funeral service in church, at the graveside or at a crematorium. Tonight the invitation is to ‘say hello again’ by cherishing the memories our loved ones who have died. From this perspective, the loss of a loved one need not be final and total. Although there is indeed such a loss as far as the physical presence of the deceased is concerned, on other levels the influence, memories and legacy of them will continue to exert on those of us left behind. Such memories or words of wisdom can continue to be a source of strength, comfort and inspiration in the future. Of course this is not the only occasion we shall ‘say hello again’, but in this space through poetry and prayers, through music, with lighted candles and flowers we hold our loved ones in our hearts, giving renewed thanks for what they mean to each one of us and knowing we are held in God’s eternal mystery.
Death is both horrible and as our homecoming. It is horrible because so often we watch a life still with infinite possibilities being taken from us. Our thoughts and feelings about the dying may not always be loving and positive but we are left feeling helpless as we watch a life slip away. But death is also our homecoming. St. John reporting the words of Jesus before his own death which was both horrible and a homecoming, says these strange words,
“In my Father’s house are many resting places…”
I want to suggest two meanings for us this evening on All Souls Day. This house of God here at St. Mary’s is a place of homecoming. This is your home and my home. You are always welcome here. This is where you belong. We want it to be a space for you to call your own, a space in which you will be welcome at any time; a space in which you can be alone, maybe light a candle as we shall being doing in a moment. Above all the church is here to be for you all a community of love, acceptance and welcome, a place of belonging-all are included; your home.
And secondly, Jesus is inviting us to be part of the great homecoming for all people without exception. Remember the lovely story of the Prodigal Son. The father eager for his son’s return scans the horizon for any sight of his son. And then, once spotted he runs to meet him with arms outstretched and orders a feast for his homecoming. That homecoming awaits us all. Like St. Paul says, “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face…” We are not given to know the ins and outs of that final homecoming except to know that the love of God which holds us now will never let us go. As God raised up Jesus on Easter Day so the promise is that our lives will be renewed in the mystery of God’s love.
And that is the Big Story where our small stories and the stories of our groups, families and communities find their ultimate meaning in a way of living and dying as part of what Jesus calls the ‘kingdom of God’. On this night, in this home, we say hello again knowing that we belong to one another and are connected to the deepest mystery of Divine Love. Amen.