Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ the King 2012

What a difference a week makes!
Last Sunday I stood here full of hope. I told you happily that I was off on retreat and looked forward with excitement to the prospect of a week spent entirely in silence, working on my relationship with God.
I anticipated sinking gladly into the peace of that relationship...abandoning the overwhelming details of parish how to rest in God's presence

I drove to Wales, arrived at the retreat house on Monday night and settled in, then spent much of Tuesday praying rather actively – for Gaza and for the deliberations at General Synod.
Though I didn't have a mobile signal, my phone was able to access the internet – and so I heard news of the vote as it broke.

And suddenly, the world was in turmoil and I was no longer sure quite who I was.

I have no aspiration whatsoever to become a bishop but the debate on Tuesday made it very clear the the ministry of women is not seen as good news in some quarters, despite our efforts to be faithful servants of God and His people over the past two decades. To be told that actually I had misheard God's call...that though I think of myself as a priest, I must somehow have got it wrong, since women CANNOT be priests at all.....that was deeply painful in ways that I had not anticipated.

Bishop Michael's letter, which I've copied for all of you, makes it clear that this is not the end of the road. He and many others have been wonderfully supportive of we who, certain that God has called us to minister as priests in His Church, have struggled with the rejection of that ministry which Tuesday's vote seems to represent. Late on Tuesday night, after the tears and the anger, when it began to seem that sleep might be possible, I posted to twitter
We can do this thing. We can go on loving & serving,& needing & receiving forgiveness, & being the Church,because God call us to do so
I found it hard to be away from the parish as I wanted above all to put on my collar on Wednesday morning and say, as loudly as I could, by my presence if not by my words
I'm still here. I still love you and so does God” and then get on with living my calling with all the energy and commitment I could muster.

Because, you see, I am certain that this IS my calling.

That's still where I am 5 days on, on this feast day of Christ the King.

Still trying, above all, to be obedient to that work out day by day what it means for ME to have Christ as my King...for it's no use regarding him as a figurehead monarch. It's all about obedience to his just and gentle rule.

Though this Feast emerged in the 1920s from a dubious alliance of the papacy with Mussolini's fascist government, it nonetheless expresses a deep and vital truth. As citizens of the Kingdom we are called to a different kind of life – and to look constantly to a different and higher authority.

Let's think, for a moment, about where power truly resides in today's Pilate confronts Jesus after that long night of questions and discussions. Pilate, representing the might of Rome, urbane, in control – versus the dishevelled figure, rather the worse for a night under armed guard...isolated, unsupported by even the ragtaggle group of friends who’ve been his companions til now…a natural victim, powerless, easily bullied.
Try to visualise the scene.
Who would YOU back to carry the ultimate authority, if you were a fly on the wall?
It might not be the clearcut decision we'd like...We might not find it that easy to align ourselves with the true King - then or now. 
You see, we might, actually, still be getting it wrong as we make some of our life-choices, but I'm confident that in our heart of hearts we know what the DNA of God's Kingdom really looks like, and thus how we should live in it.

It's NOT, ever, about immediate, obvious success...Not about claiming the upper hand by strength of arms or coercian or even by clever strategy.
This is a different kind of rule, for a different kind of King.

My kingdom is not from this world”…

The mission that began with his mother singing the Magnificat
He has put down the mighty from their seats and exalted the humble and meek”, continued with the Sermon on the Mount,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
Soon it will reach its climax – in something that looks to bystanders very much like defeat….because on the whole, we’d all prefer our crowns to be made of something more glitzy than thorns.

My kingdom is not from this world…

What does that mean for us?
Sometimes we seem to put our own gloss on it. God's kingdom is not of this world, so we can live our daily lives according to the rule of our own wills...and leave God to one side in some kind of remote insubstantial spiritual realm which doesn't impact on our actual behaviour at all. 

Not from this world – so He isn't really interested in it.

Hah! This is the God who is SO involved in human kind that He opts to join in with our life in all its mess and muddle, frustration and disappointment.
He's interested, all right.
Interested whenever his children cry out for justice...whenever they long for bread but are given stones....whenever we exclude or deny or try to limit His life-giving, transforming Grace.

Christ's Kingdom may not be FROM this world but it is most emphatically FOR this world...for the Church of England in all its current pain and confusion, for the people of Cainscross and Selsley, whether they are with us in church today, or staying at home, baffled, apathetic, distressed...for all those for whom the confusion of the church threatens to drown out the message of the gospel.

Christ's Kingdom is founded on the sort of love that gives without reserve, that befriends with ceaseless generosity, that values everyone, regardless of gender or opionion, as someone made in God's image, someone for whom Christ was pleased to die…

But we tend to live and to love within far narrower, more self-interested boundaries…
We follow the rules of our own kingdoms, safeguard the interests of those whom we find it easy to love, too often leave injustice unchallenged…
We pray “Thy Kingdom come…” but maybe at times we have our fingers crossed – because we want God's kingdom to fall in with our own plans.

But – here's the Good News
God is ALWAYS greater – greater than any human endeavour, greater even than the institution of the Church (though in her true essence, of course, the Church is herself part of the outworking of the Kingdom)
God's Kingdom WILL come, regardless of our faltering efforts, our feeble witness, our failures of love and compassion.
Good news!
More, the King who will come in judgement is the one who loves us so much that he dies for us…each one of us, even for me.
We have nothing to fear.
The writer Adrian Plass tells the story of a preacher who was anxious that his congregation should fully engage with that theme of judgement so he placed a chair at the head of the nave and invited them to imagine that it was occupied by Jesus, enthroned in great glory
He told them to imagine that, each in turn, they were coming to stand before him, to receive his verdict on their lives. He asked them
Now, tell me, are you not full of dread as you stand at the judgement seat?”
And Plass responded
No...because if Jesus is there, then he will, really and truly make everything, - EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT”

So we don’t need to despair of ourselves, our church or of our world as we consider this feast of Christ the King. Instead, we need to strive to embrace the challenges of the kingdom, and to embrace those who see the Church in very different ways.
We need, too, to admit our own fearfulness, our reluctance to engage, to really live as citizens of heaven…We need to recognise that God’s kingdom does not wait out of reach for the end of life as we know it, but is close at hand, ready for us to grasp it and be transformed.

Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile,
the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord; he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.

Heaven shall not wait for the rich to share their fortunes,
the proud to fall, the elite to tend the least;
Jesus is Lord; he has shown the master's privilege -
to kneel and wash servants' feet before they feast.

Heaven shall not wait for the dawn of great ideas
thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
Jesus is Lord; he has married word and action;
his cross and company make his purpose plain.

Heaven shall not wait for triumphant Hallelujahs,
when earth has passed and we reach another shore
Jesus is Lord; in our present imperfection;
his power and love are for now and then for evermore.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

There may be trouble ahead

2nd before Advent

As the song puts it “There may be trouble ahead”
Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines...
That could be a summary of last night's news, really – though as you'll have spotted, it's actually taken from this morning's Gospel – and I rather think that every generation, reading that passage has thought
We must be living in the end times now...Our world looks exactly like the one that Jesus is speaking of”

In liturgical terms, we're currently in the “Kingdom Season” - those weeks before Advent when the lectionary is focussed very much on the end times – so we've heard today not one but two passages of apocalyptic – a very particular kind of writing that looks forward to the future as it tries to make sense of the present.
It's not written in good times about some anticipated catastrophe in the future, but about challenges -- serious, "where is God amidst this suffering?" challenges -- in the life of a community. It's written to help those struggling. Daniel's readers were dealing with the exile to Babylon, Mark's with the destruction of the Temple by the Roman army in 70AD...
Both communities badly needed a sense that God was with them in their trials.

"Apocalyptic" is a term that means literally "taking the cover from"; it takes present events and lifts the veil so we can see what's really going on and where it fits in the story of God's redeeming the world.
In other words, it's not about dwelling on the terrors to come – but about so living in the present that we are attentive to the signs of the Kingdom breaking in.

Of course, the disciples were being confronted daily with signs of the Kingdom...but, like the rest of us, they didn't always recognise them.
They were as easily seduced and distracted as the next man.....
Look – what large stones and what large buildings”
I'm sure, too, that they were more than a little shaken when instead of joining them in cries of admiration, Jesus told them a few home truths.
He's so awkward like that – so unwilling to fit into our world-view, or to lend us resources to bolster it.
Quite the reverse (and you'll remember that the Jewish authorities heard his words as very much fighting talk – further ammunition as they built their case against him)

But, of course, he is right.

Whether it's the Temple in Jerusalem or our beloved St Matthew's Church – the building is ultimately unimportant and will, despite our best efforts, one day crumble to dust.
And all the other structures that we build to protect ourselves will also, ultimately, prove to be futile...governments, class structures, nations, - even, I'd dare to suggest, the institutional church.
Walls and boundaries have no place in God's radically inclusive Kingdom...
Human endeavours, however splendid, don't last.
They can't last – their destruction is written into their DNA from the very beginning, for though at their best they MAY help to point us to something greater – they can never replace it.

There's a hymn I love dearly that puts it very well
All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray His trust;
What with care and toil He buildeth,
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

Just like Herod's Great Temple, our churches provide a sacred space – somewhere for a community to meet with God, somewhere to house our memories -but it's up to us to be the living stones from which the true Church is built.

It's tempting, when reading apocalpytic, to waste time on speculating about where we are in the great time-line of the ask ourselves “Is this it? Will it all be over by Christmas?”
But that's futile too – and a distraction from our real task.

You see, whatever the trials and tribulations that life presents, we have another agenda.

We need to be alert to the signs of God's Kingdom breaking through – and poised to join in the work of that Kingdom wherever we see those green shoots .
We need to be ready.
Ready to meet God and ready to welcome in his Kingdom.

Think for a moment or two about those things you might need to put right so that you are ready
Then ask God to show you how you can work with Him to bring in the Kingdom in this time and this place.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

3rd before Advent - Disruptive God

It's very disruptive, being called by God.
I speak from experience!
When the whispers that really, I ought to do something more for Him became impossible to ignore, I was not impressed.
I was living in my dream house, utterly fulfilled as the mum of 3 young children, happy in my community, enjoying my ministry as a Reader...
Everything was fine.

Only, that sense of call would not go away.
It escalated inexorably over the 10 years that I tried to run from it
No matter what I did, how loudly I sang in an attempt to drown it out, it was still there.
Unlike Jonah, I couldn't FIND a boat going in the opposite direction, so finally, reluctantly, I agreed to let God have his way.
But for all of my 30s, Jonah was pretty much my patron saint.
In today's reading, we hear the end of his story and it sounds so easy.
God said "Go to Nineveh" and off he went. Just like that, his obedience leading to the moment when sinful Nineveh responds to his preaching, puts on sackcloth and repents..but the beginning of his journey is far more rewarding territory for reluctant disciples.
You see,when God first called him to preach in Nineveh, that great eastern city Jonah took ship west for Tarshish He could hardly have been more disobedient if he had tried...but after a storm, a shipwreck and a spell inside that famous great fish, he was ready to respond more positively when God gave him a second chance, and called him to action again. 

Of course, he went on struggling with his call. 
True, his preaching had an immediate and dramatic effect on Nineveh. The people whom he had called to repentance were almost uncannily responsive – they repented without more ado – and Jonah found that hard to bear,because, of course, once they repented, they were swiftly forgiven. They were given a second chance, just as he had been given a second chance.
God's so annoying like that. He will NOT fall in with our expectations, refuses to be bound by our concepts of justice...God is always greater – much to Jonah's frustration.
But still and all, Jonah DID submit himself to God's call, allowing that voice to become the loudest, most commanding in his life.

Equally, the fishermen Simon and Andrew, James and John, weren't looking to change career the day Jesus came by. But somehow they found themselves compelled to up sticks then and there, to abandon the family business and embark on a road that would lead them to places they had never imagined, a life changing adventure, a roller coater rid that took in both the cross and the empty tomb, the joy of Pentecost and culminated for each of them in a cruel death.

Really and truly, a call from God is not compatible with a quiet life.

How could it be, when God invites us to share with Him in the work of bringing in the Kingdom?
This afternoon, our church will be full as we gather to honour the courage and the suffering of those caught up in war...
They too found their lives unbearably disrupted as they responded to the challenges of war
They too found the way ahead dangerous and difficult, almost beyond endurance
But they believed that they had to make a difference – to do something to halt injustice and oppression

Today we are often advised to “choose your battles” - the implication being that there is no point in wasting your energy on a conflict that is already lost before ever you enter the fray.
But I'd want to say to each of you that there are some battles that we must all engage in, some calls that we can never refuse to answer.

And I'm afraid that when I speak of calling, there's nobody here who can sit comfortably, imagining that God's call is for others. All of us here, by virtue of our baptism, are called to loving service. It's not just something for me, or Mathew, Clare or Mary - and others who like dressing in strange clothes and taking on strange responsibilities.

We are all called.

In this service as whenever we gather here, we will pray the Lord's Prayer, with its plea to God “Thy Kingdom Come... the kingdom that is justice and joy, love and peace.
We pray – and to SAY prayers is easy - but as we pray, we must also, always, be ready to become the answer to our own prayers.

It takes courage, but we too need to allow God to break into our lives, to challenge our assumptions, shake us out of our comfort zones, reframe the landscape of our world

We may, like Jonah, need to preach repentance – to remind ourselves and our neighbours of just how badly we have broken this world
Or we may, like those Galilean fishermen, need to preach good news – that the broken world and everything in it is restored through the Love of God

Certainly we need to let God disturb us, to wake us up and help us to proclaim with our words and our lives that the Kingdom of God has come near – and to live each day as Ambassadors, revealing that kingdom in all that we think and speak and do.

Remembrance Sunday - a Tale of Two Soldiers

Probably the Sunday that is most challenging to preachers...certainly the one with which I unfailingly struggle. This year I'm grateful to Revd Anne le Bas, whose words on St Martin I've borrowed verbatim.

The eleventh day of the eleventh month. For almost a century now, a day for remembering the courage and the suffering of those caught up in war...A day when communities across the world stand in silence as a tribute to those who gave their lives in the cause of peace.
Remembrance Sunday.

But even before we reached today, 2012 has been quite a year for Remembering here in our churches. Along with everyone else in the country, we celebrated the Queen's Jubilee and looked back at the 60 years of her reign, but beyond that we had our own celebrations, as we marked the 175th birthday of this church. We reminded ourselves once again that a church is never really about the building...that it should be built of “living stones”. Some are the people who have gathered to worship here week by week, some those who've passed on the faith across the centuries – men, women and children with whom we are linked because they, and we, are part of God's great family.

So today I'd like to share with you the stories of two very different soldiers...both worthy of remembering with admiration. As I do so, I'm conscious of the thousands of untold stories.  I could have chosen any number of soldiers to talk about...but I've chosen two. 

The first is very much part of OUR history. We've not produced any Prime Ministers nor Nobel Laureates in the parish – but we do have our share of heroes to remember...the names of some were/will be read out during this service, but there are many many others, among them a local lad who won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry that any British service man can hope for.

Eugene Paul Bennett was just an ordinary boy from an ordinary family. fanfares of trumpets greeted his birth here in Cainscross on 4th June 1892, and his parents sent him to nearby Uplands School, where he must have worked hard as he won a scholarship to Marling. This was before the days of free education for all, so most ordinary children did not go on to secondary school at all. Eugene, though, was one of the lucky ones.

Except, of course, that he wasn't lucky at all. He was one of that generation born at just the wrong moment, the generation that found itself plunged into the war to end all wars...And like most of his contemporaries, Eugene signed up to serve King and Country...And was posted to France.

Most of us have some idea of what he will have met there...the fear, the pain, the sound of shells, the scream of wounded men and animals.
That kind of hell was the new normal. Once again, Eugene was just part of the crowd as he learned to fight, side by side with his friends – more ordinary people confronted with a world that nobody had dreamed of, even in their worst nightmares.
And then, one day, Eugene did something extraordinary. It was on 5th November 1916....but the bangs and flashes that filled the air at Le Transloy, France, were the sounds of war and not of fireworks. He was put in command of a group of soldiers, whose job was to compete an attack after some of their friends had almost failed. There were many casualties, and the commanding officer had been killed
The official report recorded

Lieutenant Bennett advanced at the head of the second wave and by his personal example of valour and resolution reached his objective with but sixty men. Isolated with his small party, he at once took steps to consolidate his position, under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from both flanks, and although wounded, he remained in command, directing and controlling. He set an example of cheerfulness and resolution beyond all praise, and there is little doubt that, but for his personal example of courage,the attack would have been checked at the outset.
An ordinary man in an extraordinary situation...Doing his job calmly and cheerfully in a situation of great danger and fear.
An ordinary man, but a hero all the same.
The first of our two soldiers.

The second was remembered on 11th November for centuries before that Great War in which Eugene was decorated for his gallantry...because today is also the date on which the church invites us to remember St Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier, born about 300 AD – and for many years he, with St George, was the patron saint of all soldiers.
This might be a little surprising, because, in contrast to Eugene Bennett, Martin was notable for REFUSING to fight from the moment he became a Christian.
He too was serving on a battlefield in France, where the Roman army was fighting the Gauls when he turned round to his commanding officer and announced
"I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight."
His commanding officers accused him of cowardice, but to prove them wrong Martin volunteered to stand unarmed on the frontline the next day, facing certain death. His superiors were very happy to let him – that would show anyone else who had similar ideas what the result would be. That night, though, the Gauls unexpectedly surrendered, and Martin was spared. He left the army and eventually became Bishop of Tours, in Gaul, and served the very people he had refused to fight against for the rest of his life. There is a famous story that a few years before he left the army, Martin had come across a beggar, shivering in the snow by the city gates. He took his precious military cloak and cut it in two, giving half to the beggar. The beggar was very grateful, but the crowd around him ridiculed Martin who now looked pretty silly in his half-cloak. Perhaps Martin himself wondered whether this gesture had been a stupid one, because that night he had a dream. He dreamt he saw the courts of heaven, full of angels arrayed in splendour. In the middle of them all was Jesus, but he wasn’t dressed in cloth of gold but in that half-cloak Martin had given to the beggar. “He is not even baptised yet,” said Jesus, “but Martin has clothed me with his own cloak.”  Martin was reassured and his faith strengthened, but he learned an important lesson that day; sometimes the hardest actions to take aren’t the ones which threaten your life, but the ones which threaten your dignity, which lead to you suffering mockery and misunderstanding for the sake of others.

Two ordinary soldiers who stood out from the crowd.
Two ordinary soldiers responding in different ways to the challenge of war...One decorated for his courage, the other coming perilously close to a court martial.
I'm not standing here to say that one was right and the other wrong...but rather to remind you that courageous service comes in many forms. Those who bear arms to protect our freedoms exercise one, very demanding form of courage, and we recognise, honour and pray for them as they do so, but it isn’t the only one. The frontlines of the struggle for justice and true peace aren’t just in Afghanistan and the other trouble spots of the world, they are right here in our own communities, towns and cities, workplaces and homes, and the battles we really need to fight often can’t be fought with guns and bombs.

War doesn’t come from nowhere; it grows from small wrongs that are not set right, resentments and prejudices which are allowed to take root because no one thinks it is their job to challenge them. We tend to divide ourselves into soldiers and civilians but the truth is that everyone is a part of a great struggle in which the soul of the world is shaped, whether we like it or not. Each of us is called to battle, whatever form that takes. Wherever we see people treated unjustly,
naked, hungry or homeless, excluded or hated without cause, we are on a frontline, a place where the war will ultimately be won or lost, and each of us will bear some responsibility for the outcome. 
The struggle is neither long ago nor far away. It is not a fight that others must engage with. It's one for ordinary Eugene, Martin, you and me. We all share responsibility for making this world better. We're not here for long – but we do need to make a difference.

In this service, as whenever we gather as God's family, we will pray the Lord's Prayer...
Together we will ask that God's Kingdom may come – that kingdom of justice and joy, love and peace – but as we pray, we must also, always, be ready to become the answer to our own prayers.
So today let us remember and then let us be transformed by our remembering, and resolve to take our part in bringing in God's Kingdom.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

I  believe in the Communion of Saints
That's what we say whenever we recite the Apostles' Creed, as we've done this afternoon, but like many other clauses of the Creed, it's probably something we don't think that much about.
If we do, we may have vague images of shining people, probably wearing those strange Biblical nighties. After all, that's how the saints are described in the book of Revelation, from which the words of the Victoria anthem were taken
Oh, how glorious is the kingdom where the saints rejoice with Christ. Clothed in white robes they follow the Lamb wherever he goes”
All well and good – but it doesn't sound very real, does it?
When we say “I believe in...” - we mean – THIS is where we place our faith...THESE are things on which we dare to try to build our lives....and all those pallid figures drifting around in white robes seem to be rather too remote and ethereal for that. They might, I suppose, give us something to aspire to on a good day, but I'm not sure that I'd really know how to relate to those great heroes and heroines of the faith, those tested in the fires and found to be pure gold. After all, they seem a far cry from a middle-aged vicar in Gloucestershire with a weakness for gin, chocolate and detective fiction. I know that those shining souls are the ones who have made it.....but surely even at the beginning they must have breathed a different kind of air, been in that category of people who are so darned heavenly, they aren't of any earthly use at all.
No. Stop right there, Kathryn.
That's NOT how the Communion of Saints works, I'm sure of it.
Communion means a group of people who are united, sharing thoughts, purpose, feelings...Admittedly, when I think about "the saints," these great women and men who came before me, the idea of being united with them, tempts me to say, "You've got to be could I be in that number?"
All the saints...
ALL the saints” - there is such a range to remember. The great and the good whom we know from Scripture, right enough...but also many many others. The everyday saints who would blush or guffaw at being described in that way...the friends and family who have loved for us, encouraged us, inspired us. Let me share a few of my saints. 
The dynamic, inspiring school choir master, who probably drank too much, but who helped me to grasp that in worship we can be caught up in the music of heaven. The elderly couple, just another pair of pensioners sitting in the back pew, who used to invite my toddlers to sit with them every week – giving me the space to worship and to listen to God I so badly needed. The school-marm godmother I rarely saw, but who, wonderfully, prayed for me each day of my life. 
You'll have some too - people who have helped you to see God in the world. Think about them for a moment, your very own everyday saints – shining with God's love, just as we too are called to shine.
In the collect for All Saints' Day, we pray:
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.
The mystical body...All sorts of men, women and children...people dealing with a myriad different issues, facing their own struggles in life and faith – and numbered among the saints not because of their talents or personalities but because of God's action.
And what is true for them holds good for us too.
Through Jesus' ministry, we have been knit in one communion, one fellowship, one Body of Christ. It is in Jesus that we find our true identity, and our passport to the Communion of Saints.
In other words, "For all the saints ..." is for us – you and me
We are part of one communion of saints with all the heroes of the faith, with our loved ones who have gone before us, with our friends on earth and friends above...In all our doubts and fears, in all our joys and certainties we are not for one moment alone. Together we are part of that great company in whom God's love shines...
I believe in the communion of saints
Flawed, imperfect people. People like us, through whom the Light of the World is content to shine. Ordinary, broken (for we need the cracks to let the light shine through) but transfigured by God's grace and God's glory.
I believe in the Communion of Saints – and I believe, too, that we are part of it.
All are one in Thee, for all are thine.
Let's pray
Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

All things new - a reflection for Journey On 2012

In addition to the traditional Requiem for All Souls every year, we hold a special service during the closest weekend to that commemoration, to which we make a point of inviting all those families with whom we've had contact through funeral ministry over the preceding 24 months. The service is deliberately "church lite", using some wonderful prayers by Dorothy McRae-McMahon. We avoid the pain of waiting to hear "your" name read out, by reading the names only at the Requiem itself, but there's space, silence, singing and, of course, the opportunity to light a candle. I always talk about the many different losses we experience - not just the death of loved ones, but failed relationships, unemployment, leaving one home for another...and it's always a very special service. This years took place this afternoon, and it was, as always, such a joy to see the families I've worked with, a few months down the line from the immediacy of their loss. Of course, some are finding it easier than others. Some find just being in church extraordinarily hard, but, bless their courageous hearts, they stick with it anyway, and, to my joy, seem to find it a genuinely safe space to be themselves with their grief before God. 
I love this service, just as I love the All Souls Requiem, and am constantly baffled by those colleagues who really don't find funeral ministry rewarding. For me it is the greatest privilege - and this is emphasised when funeral families choose to allow me to continue to share their journey for a while.
Here's what I said to them today.
Hurricanes have been in the news of late. This past week, of course, we've watched the devestation caused by hurricane Sandy...while just a couple of weeks ago came the 25th anniversary of our own autumn hurricane...I remember it so well, as my daughter was just a few months old, so I was up several times that night – though to my amazement, when London's power went down and 100s of burglar alarms went off, the baby slept through the whole thing.
Afterwards, of course, came the analysis of damage – to cars and buildings, obviously, but also to many many acres of woodland right across the south of England. The storm was indiscriminate about which trees it felled and which were spared. A lone 600-year-old yew survived, as did giant coastal redwoods and a massive copper beech. But whole plantations and giant 200-year-old oaks fell like matchsticks.
The whole landscape was changed beyond recognition and there was much lamentation. Many conservation bodies rushed to replant and clear up...They wanted to get back to normal as quickly as possible – but the truth was that things were never going to be the same again, and in other areas, this just couldn't be managed. Woodland stayed exactly as the trees had fallen – with surprising results.
In place of dark woodland with closed canopy, came sky, new vistas and new ideas. Today the wild wood is full of life with muntjac, roe and fallow deer, green woodpeckers and wild flowers growing in the glades created by the storm. The rotting beech and oak trunks have become seedbeds for foxgloves and brambles. In another 20 years the trunks will provide the soil that will sprout lines of young trees.
Nature regenerates in ways that will always amaze us.
And what is true of nature is true of people too...
Each of you is here because you've faced great storms in your life. Landscapes have been changed forever,as you've faced the reality of loss and death. Nothing IS the same as it was but nonetheless, if you can lift your eyes you may see the first signs of hope and re-creation.
You get up and dress every day. You eat, even if you don't much feel like it. You have not turned your face to the wall, but chosen to live...and gradually, though not as quickly as you might like, the balance of dark days and light will begin to change for you.
You may not yet have reached the stage of seeing sky, new vistas and new ideas – but with God's help that WILL come.
You may feel as if you are barely beginning to move forwards...but wait, watch, hope
You may still feel that the sadness of loss is your strongest reality, but that sadness is a sign of love, which you know is truly stronger than death...
That love is God's gift to us, the thing that makes us human, the source not only of our suffering but also of our greatest joy.
As you continue to explore the new landscape of your life, try to notice those signs of new things growing...Perhaps family relationships are stronger now, perhaps you are learning to do things for yourself that you had never imagined.
Even if you feel that you are like one of those trees felled by the patient. Come close to God and ask for his help, his comfort. Ask him for those gifts we sang about "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow"        Tell him how you feel, how hard the days are, and let him wipe the tears from your eyes as he shows you the truth of his promise
See, I am making all things new”

This was the prayer card they took away with them