On All Souls Day (2nd November 2022) we remember those who have died, following remembering the Saints the day before on All Hallows Day. There are many people to remember, for me the death of my father on 3rd August 2022 is and was the most prominent memory.
At the annual All Souls Service on Sunday 30th October, I gave the following short homily after a reading from the book of Lamentations. I hope you find it helpful.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
For the Lord will notLamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
reject for ever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.
When someone dies our thoughts and feelings can be rather mixed up. The same is true for those whose death is in the past. The loss of people we love, even of people we had a difficult or complicated relationship with, can feel very cruel. If their death was a sudden one, it can feel as if someone has been torn away from us and left a deep scar that we can’t imagine healing. When their death has followed illness and suffering, their final journey in this world can also be painful to recover from. Conversely the relief that can come from a loved one being freed from their suffering can cause us to feel guilt, as though we somehow wished their life away. In the maelstrom of our thoughts and feelings, it is not unusual to question whether God is a loving God.
In the mourning for Queen Elizabeth (after her death in September), a quote she once used came back into public prominence. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, she quoted Colin Murray Parkes who wrote:
“The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.”Colin Murray Parkes in Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life (1972)
In other words love finds its fullness in loss: our grief for those no longer with us is a sign that we both loved them and were loved by them. It is a grief that arises out of absence, a grief for a stream of love that flows no more. And it is an experience that Jesus shared with us, not least through the death of his friend Lazarus and through his suffering that anticipated His own death.
The Book of Lamentations we heard read from, acts as a reminder that God not only wants to hear our praise and worship, but also our despair and detachment. It’s written from a place of suffering, but it is a suffering that connects with hope through love — because one cannot truly lament something that one does not love.
We lament the perilous state people find themselves in because we love the people and planet affected by poverty, pollution and war. And we lament the loss of people this evening because of our love for them, and theirs for us. But we are not meant to remain in lament. To remain in lament limits the flow of love: our love for those we have lost, their love for us, and God’s love for both.
God’s love is more than a sticking plaster or medicine to heal the pain. It is a love that grieves with us, a love that knows the pain of loss. And it is a love that bridges the living and the departed. For Jesus didn’t just experience love and loss, He opened up eternity so that we and those whose death we mourn may both ever be in the very presence of God’s love — even those whose faith in God we could not see.
The writer of Lamentations made the choice to find completeness by remembering the nature of God’s love, mercies, and hope. They chose to remember that God is with us even through the difficult times. They chose to remember that though the days may be dark, there is hope that lights our path through them. They chose to remember that though we might lament, we and those we mourn are held in God’s love.
God wants us to accept His love so that we might find joy not only in what was but what will be — for we will be reconnected with those we mourn. God’s love won’t just reunite us with those we have lost, but will mourn and lament with us until we are reunited. And through God’s daily mercies, until we are reunited, that love will make our lamentations complete and bring us joy in our remembering of those that have gone before us.