This season of the church’s year is one that I love. I love it for both its sense of melancholy and I love it for its sense of hope.
Over the past days here at church we have celebrated All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and now we gather with you to give thanks for and remember those whom you and we have loved, those whom you and we have lost and those whom you and we see no longer.
For each of us here, the loss we live with will take different forms and shapes. We may find that we move between this sense of melancholy and hope of which I have spoken. A lingering sense of loss for the one we have loved, and yet the hope that they are in a ‘better’ place and that we too will move to being in a better place as our hearts ease and our lives take on a new shape and meaning without them.
I imagine some of you will remember the experience of waking in the morning with that very brief moment of not remembering, and then experiencing the wave of disbelief and grief that washes over you, perhaps making you sob into your pillow, as you remember again the person has died.
I imagine some of you, like me, may still ‘see’ the person who has died – driving the car in front or behind you: is that really their face you can see in the rear-view mirror? Or waiting at the bus stop as you sail past in your car, or just turning down the aisle at the other end of the supermarket. These people were part of our every day and so it is only natural, perhaps, that we somehow ‘see’ them in our everyday lives even though we know they have gone.
Life after someone has died will always be filled with the questions: where have they gone? How do we know? What has happened to them? What do we do if the loss is still unbearable, or we have forgotten what they look like, or we can’t think of them as it is too soon and it still makes us weep – when sitting on the train without realising that we are doing so.
The question of where people are is such a natural one. As we live, our life is so tangible to us because we live it, that to imagine something as unnatural as not existing as we do is hard to comprehend. It is for this reason that the time of mentally and emotionally ‘seeking’ the person who has died is such a natural one. We are not alone in our wonderings and they are nothing new as, through time, people have asked the very same questions.
At the funeral for your friend or relative, you may have had the reading from John’s Gospel that begins, Jesus said to his disciples:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
John 14: 1
In this passage, Jesus assures his disciples that in his father’s house there are many dwelling places. Jesus is assuring them that there is a place for them, and that there is much space, so they do not need to worry about what will happen after they die. They, like us, are asking the question of what will happen when we die. They are, perhaps, asking what has happened to those who have died.
If where you are, as you come today, is still in the place of searching, of asking or of weeping – then this season with its touch of melancholy is one that must still be very real. I did say though, that in this season there is also hope. Yesterday we kept All Souls’ when we remembered those who have died, giving thanks for them, and the day before we celebrated the Feast of All Saints’. This is a major Festival of the Church and it allows us to fill our hearts with light and hope and love for all those who have gone before us as faithful servants of God. On both of these days our focus is on those who rest now with God. We remember and recall the lives of those whose names are ‘famous’ – known as Saints – perhaps with churches dedicated to them, like our own St Mary’s. We remember and recall also those whose names are not known but who also served God, who loved also loved others and who also now rest with God.
Our hope is that those we have loved rest with God, and we are offered hope, throughout scriptures that those whom we love do indeed rest with God: Jesus offers us this truth, St Paul does also when he writes to the Romans: I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If the melancholy or grief still linger for you, live in hope also. Let these words of Jesus live with you:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. John 14.1