Sunday, November 01, 2015

All is harvest, a homily for the All Souls Requiem at Coventry Cathedral

This past week has given me plenty of food for thought.
You see, I spent Monday to Thursday just a few miles away from the place where I grew up.
Driving south, the memories came thick and fast.

The woods that surrounded the conference centre where I was staying had been the scene of some magical afternoons building dens with my father – and seeing them in their full autumnal beauty made me long to leave the car and plunge into the undergrowth – to see if somewhere a little girl and her Daddy were still playing.

On the second afternoon I found myself in a country church with a small group of people I'd met only the day before, singing Faure's Requiem just for the sake of it, because we could. The church, too, had been somewhere I had visited with my parents, who were avid church-crawlers, and, singing the Pie Jesu I recalled standing to sing it at my father's funeral. More, a trip into the nearby town for some necessary supplies sent me past the cemetery where my parents are buried. This is somewhere I rarely visit, not because I don't love and miss them deeply – but because it is some 200 miles away from home – and because they are, quite simply, not there. I was, therefore, a little surprised at how important it seemed to turn off the road, and spend some time among the graves, searching. In the event, it didn't seem to matter at all that I didn't actually find them.

What mattered was that I had stopped, and remembered.

Even in the shock of losing them both, just 6 months apart, before I turned 19, I had somehow grasped that that what had happened to the bodies of those beloved people who had been all my world was painful, sad – but not the reality.
I understood it as I ordered a stone with the one criterion – that it should be one that weathered, that would soon be softened by the elements, covered with lichen....and hoped that in the same way, the immediate searing grief of abandonment would gradually be softened by time. Now I know that I was right, that memories remain but the sadness has largely gone.
And I think that's as it should be.

There are moments, like last week for me, when past and present collide, and we can remember with thanksgiving all those whose lives have been a gift to us, can commit them again to God's care, and perhaps reflect for a few moments on our own mortality.

I think this is what today is for

We stand and look back with thanksgiving – for these beloved people are OUR saints...their light of their lives has brought warmth and beauty to our journey and of course we miss their physical presence beside us.
But listen.
“This is the will of him who sent me...that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”
That is the sort of promise we can rely on...and one that we see reflected in creation, as we know that the dying leaves of autumn will give place, in due course, to the new life of another spring. Change and loss are part of living in time – but the inheritance we hear about in the letter of Peter is of a different order – imperishable, undefiled, unfading – above all a LIVING hope.
It is, truly, something to look forward to.

Here I'm stopped in my tracks by the voice of my older son, who contends, always, that I am too easily persuaded by the beauty of words...and he is right that words are of value only if they match experience. He is right, too, that I have no direct experience of the reality of that promise – but I HAVE experienced the enduring wonder of a love, which is not changed or broken simply because we can no longer see or touch those who have been a gift to us.
That love colours our memories, giving them a warmth and beauty that makes the ordinary things of life seem an extraordinary treasure
That love, a pale reflection of God's love for each one of us, is nonetheless truly stronger than death so that even from a purely human viewpoint, love never ends.

But remember what Jesus says
“I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me”
In other words, the guarantee of our future well-being, of that inheritance prepared in heaven for us is nothing to do with our own care and attention...for I know that I too often lose or damage things that are precious.
Our living hope for the future, for ourselves and our loved ones, is nothing less that Jesus's own care for us...something on which we can always, ALWAYS rely

He will not let us go.

So today we pause to look back...and we look forward.
To do so in the golden beauty of autumn days is to do so without fear – as we recognise that death and hope walk hand in hand, that in God's economy nothing is ever lost or wasted, that all in the end is harvest.

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