Today's All Souls Eucharist & Commemoration of the Departed draws a line for me, I think, under the recent tide of death-beds and funerals. I know that at least one more funeral will fall into my diary sometime very soon, since dear I., who fought so long and hard, finally went safely home to God on Saturday, and I know too that others in my church community are engaged in life and death battles of their own, that there will be the need to explore the deepest issues, the four last things before too many weeks are past.
But for the moment, I seem to be standing in a clearing - and that feels good.
Don't mistake me - I love and value this aspect of ministry hugely; sometimes, when fabric and finance seem to be demanding most of my time, I catch myself thinking "I badly need a funeral to remind me of what I'm really for..." but even so, officiating at 12 in 15 working days felt somewhat overwhelming.
I wondered, in the course of that run, whether I was quite mad to offer both "Journey On", and the full All Souls Requiem...Many of the same people would come to both, I thought, but the services work in very different ways. "Journey On" is, really, church for the un-churched. Very early in my curacy I spoke with a widower who told me that the hardest experience of the first few months after his wife's death was the moment when he heard her name remembered among the departed at the Sunday Mass...It seems to me that to ask people who are not habitually at home in church to deal with that extra emotional burden may not always be kind - even leaving aside the question of whether we manage, as I profoundly hope that we do, to make it clear that everyone really IS welcome at the feast. Hence, "Journey On", which gives them the opportunity to do their remembering in silence, or through the comfortable familiarity of lighting a tea- light.
This morning's Requiem for All Souls, on the other hand, has the sharing of Communion at its heart. In my homily I spoke a little about the continuity of love and prayer that allows us to say, like Thomas More
"Pray for me as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven", and about the presence of the whole church, living and departed in the Lord Jesus, as we break bread and share wine as He commands. It was good to stand before the altar and proclaim Resurrection hope, to offer the Gospel promise
"This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should lose nothing that has been given to me, but raise it up on the last day".
The congregation that appeared was too large for the Lady Chapel, so we moved into the quire and my voice sounded loud to me as I read the long list of names, allowing each one to rest on the air before gathering them all up, with so many countless others, as I prayed the Kontakion with its surprising moment of joy
"weeping o'er the grave we make our song
Give rest, O Lord, to thy servants with thy saints
Where sorrow and pain are no more
Neither sighing, but life everlasting"
So, I'm glad we offer both routes to remembering...but above all I am thankful that as we stand at the altar we are, all together, the Body of Christ - taken, blessed, broken...