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Homily for All Souls   1st November 2020

beads

 

 

Isaiah 65:17-end

The Glorious New Creation

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

 

It’s November. I wonder what you make of the month of November. We’re officially into the autumn season and with the windy weather, everywhere we go we see the leaves falling off the trees.

It’s always seemed to me to be a poignant reminder of the season when we remember the fallen and those whom we have loved and lost.

In what sense did we ‘lose’ those who have died? In a very real sense we did lose the ones we have come here to remember. Even though, in a sense, they can never be truly lost because we believe they are safe in the hands of God.

But we are human and it’s very hard to lose someone we loved so deeply. We use the word ‘lost’ because we feel our loved one’s separation, we feel their absence and we miss them being around, the way that there were things that only they knew about us and the way they were the only one with whom we could chat about certain things.

And ‘lost’ is a good word for how we can feel when our loved ones are no longer with us.

Perhaps we can take the reading from Isaiah on two levels. Let’s take a moment to look at this together. In the midst of a calamitous national situation for Israel, God declares that he is making a new creation. It’s going to turn out to be a long way in the future, but nevertheless, it’s a bright light on the horizon for God’s people.

This vision of the New Jerusalem is often offered as a verse of hope at funerals. In the new creation there will be no more crying: ‘No more shall weeping be heard in it’, the reading says of the city of God’s people.

We hold onto that hope when we are grieving our loved ones.

But on another level we can take as least as much comfort, perhaps more, from the fact that God has seen our particular grief. Isaiah mentions some very real scenarios where his people have lost those they love, and he names groups of people that should never have lost their lives. To be named is to be noticed and it feels as though here God is bending towards humanity and understanding how hard it is for us when we encounter death.

Speaking of the New Jerusalem, the prophet says ‘no longer will there be an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime’. These things are so hard to take: when we have lost someone through illness or accident and their lives are cut short, it is very hard to hold onto the goodness of God.

But God has seen. God imagines a world where these things will no longer happen and where our weeping will be no more. God imagines a world where to be 100 years old is to be considered youthful.

I don’t know if living to be 100 years old appeals to anyone here. I had the privilege of seeing my two grandmothers both nearly reach 100. One died in 1999, just 4 months before her 99th birthday and the other one died in 2012, five months after her 99th birthday. I have two mementos here, two strings of beads, one from each grandma. The amber beads from Marjorie my father’s mother, and the jet beads from Kathleen, my mother’s mother. Holding them reminds me that they are in a sense still with me.

Losing a grandparent is often our first experience of someone in the family passing away, and it is always helpful to give children a chance to talk about grandma or grandpa and what they meant. Grandparents are so special.

If you’re here remembering a spouse or a sibling or friend, or even if you’re thinking about a lost child, it’s good to have this time to give thanks and to grieve, if that’s still very much your day-to-day experience.

I learnt this year about tears containing stress hormones; when we cry those stress hormones come out and oddly we can feel better afterwards. But for some, even crying for the ones we miss still feels counter-intuitive: although our culture is perhaps getting better at encouraging us to share our feelings, many people are unsure how to fully express them and most people underestimate how long it takes to grieve fully.

We are told to ‘keep busy’, as an apparent antidote to feeling sad, and sometimes activity can help. There’s a balance, for those who grieve, between activity (sometimes helpful) and having the courage to sit with our loss, because our loss is real and painful and nothing will ever be quite the same again.

And so while we can hold onto the hope in Isaiah of a new creation where there will be no more crying we can also hold onto the assurance that today God has seen. He’s seen the little ones that were lost before they’d really started out in the world; he’s seen the sense of futility when illness and accident bring us sudden heartache and a very different future to the one we’d envisaged for our relationships.

‘They shall not labour in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord, and their descendants as well’ says our reading. God has seen.

At this beginning of November we are in the season of remembering and the Church calendar at this time gives us a space in which to gather and remember the saints, our own loved ones and those who have fallen in war. All Saints of course is mostly expressed in our culture as the evening before All Saints, that is – All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en.

Despite being caught up in materialism, our culture still acknowledges the presence of those who have gone before, whether in small private rituals, or by dressing up and facing our collective uncertainty, even horror, of what it might mean to encounter the realm of the dead.

As Christians, we have nothing to fear about where our loved ones reside, because we believe in a God who is a God of the living and of the dead. Those who have died in Christ are said to have fallen asleep only. At the Last Day we believe and trust that they will rise along with us and greet the coming Saviour, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we commend our loved ones and ourselves at All Saints and All Souls-tide. We remember and give thanks, and we remind ourselves that one day all our tears will be wiped away. But for now, we know that God has seen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.