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Homily for the Commemoration of All Souls

Sermon for All Souls – November 1st 2009  at  Little Paxton

We have to admit, if we are honest, that change is the one thing that we cannot avoid in our lives.  “ One thing is here to stay” – as the saying goes – “ And that is change”

For some people, change is a depressing word, a negative word, a threatening word.

I often hear people saying that so many things have changed – that  life styles have changed out of all recognition from the times when they were young.  Many feel that the  morals of society have changed for the worst. That life isn’t as safe and carefree as it was  50 years ago. That people aren’t as caring as they used to be. That we are destroying the earth we live on and so on.

With a negative outlook on change can go a sense of decay and of things  running down.

One of the  most popular hymn at funerals is “Abide with me “ which has those words in – “change and decay in all around I see”  There are some really lovely words in the hymn of comfort and encouragement. But the linking of change with decay perhaps isn’t always helpful .

For the person  for whom change feels threatening,  it is most likely that one of emotions that is around for that person is loss. Change often means loosing something very precious, loosing the familiar. Loosing that which feels safe and comfortable. None of us ever wants to feel loss,  and  the wide range of emotions that loss and bereavement brings. – anger, profound sadness, confusion and disbelief.

Change on the other hand doesn’t necessarily have to be all about decay and sadness and loss, though those things might be there to start with.

Take the  never ending  cycles  of the seasons. We know, as surely as the sun courses across the sky, that the seasons continue in their cyclic pattern The leaves fall off the branches in the autumn, they sink down into the earth, making the soil even richer  for next years growth.

Maybe some of you are enjoying the BBC TV Autumn Watch programme on Friday nights. This Friday we saw just how essential the whole process of decay is on a woodland floor – old leaves, bark, dead insects and animals  all going to make  the rich fabric of  fertile soil from which new life in a woodland grows. The cycle of life and death  and death leading to new life is a key feature of the raw world of nature.

We have had a remarkably warm and benign autumn so far – but the forecasters tell us that it is all about to change.

If the seasons teach us anything it is that death  and decay does not have the last word.  For we know with utter certainty that the days will lengthen againafter winter, , and there will appear that day when the temperatures will begin to rise again and the first green will peak through the frozen earth. The dance of creation will continue for yet another  year as the fields will team with life.

Change is  inbuilt, is inherent within nature and indeed within our human bodies and our souls. We never stay still for long.  It’s not how God intended us to be. Change might be associated  with decay – yes. But without change there can be no growth, no new beginnings and no new life. All would become stale. This I believe is as true for us as individuals as it is for the church and for communities.

Many of you here tonight will have been through  some recent changes in your lives – not least your loss of a loved one. For some  of you  that change will have been sudden, leaving you with no time to prepare and adjust to the change. Others of you may have had time to adjust to loosing your loved one, though that can hardly be said to be any easier when the actual moment of death comes.

Our mortality is something we may care not to think about, but it is inevitable, as inevitable as the leaves turn at autumn time.  And maybe if all we had to comfort ourselves was the inevitability of it all, then living might indeed feel bleak. And when faced with the death of a loved one, or if contemplating our own end, if we thought that was truly the end – then there wouldn’t be a lot of hope in the equation.  But the Christian faith  I encourages us to believe there is far more than we can possibly imagine.

The Christian view  on the fact of death and dying is rather awesome. It offers  us  something which, if accepted can transform the way we negotiate the death of our loved ones – and indeed face our own mortality. It wont cut out the grieving process – this natural human reaction to loss must be journeyed through with all the love and support which  hopefully is on offer from those around us.

But allow the powerful message of resurrection  to mingle with grief and see how  heavy burdens might be lifted from our hearts.

churchyard october 28th 09

Let me take you to a story in John Chapter 11. There are Martha and Mary, two sisters with very different temperaments. There is  brother Lazarus.  They were a happy family – comfortable home.  Good food. Their door  was  always open to friends. Jesus loved to visit.

Then we read that Lazarus, the beloved brother, is dead. We don’t know why. We don’t know if he had been ill for long. We can imagine that he would have had every tender care from his family that was possible from day one.  During his illness, the sisters  had longed for Jesus to come to them. But he hadn’t. This really is a puzzle as we read that although Jesus knew Lazarus was sick, he still waited two days before visiting.  The sisters had to go through their own Gethsemane experience – and the worst happened- Lazarus died.   Why on earth did Jesus let his friend die? How could he have let this  happen?   We expect to read “ Jesus rushed to his house” But he didn’t.

How often, when a loved one has been very ill have we asked – please, God, come and make him or her better.

By the time Jesus does get there, Lazarus is well and truly dead. He’s been placed in a  tomb  for four days.  Not a lot of hope there.   Jesus we are told groans when he arrives and hears the news about his friend. This is a strong  greek word – equivalent to our sense of deep mourning, that aching of bereavement and loss.  He asks, in his deep pain, to see Lazarus. He comes to the tomb. And no wonder Martha says to him – in modern language – hold on. Think about this. He’s been dead four days. This isn’t pleasant.

The place where Lazarus lay was a dark place of decay. But was it to be a place of new birth – was the tomb  in fact a womb? Across the entrance to the tomb was a stone. Jesus askes for it to be removed. But Martha, in her horror of facing the unimaginable.  Says no.  I’m sure most of us would echo Martha’s No!

But listen!

lazarusThe Resurrection of Lazarus, Byzantine icon (late 14th — early 15th Century).

There are some words of Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life. Did I not tell you that if you have faith, you  will see the glory of God? “

He lifts his eyes up to heaven – to God . He gives thanks. He lifts Lazarus up to God – he exposes death to  God’s transforming love.  With a loud voice he shouts

“ Lazarus!  Hither! Out!” Jesus hurls all of his authority into that command.  Come out and live!  Let the power of the  resurrection  flow through you now!

And he that was dead came out, his hands and feet tied with bandages. Jesus said,  “Loose  him and let him go”

Lazarus is free.

Of course, our loved ones don’t come back to physical life as Lazarus did.  This miracle of Jesus, this great sign, was done to show those around him just who he was and how in Gods power, even death can be overcome and new life flood in.

Jesus was to show even  more  remarkably  in a few weeks  time how in Gods power, he too would rise to new life after death.

Herein lies the Christian antidote to our painful awareness of death and decay. To  our grappling with loss and sadness.  For if we can just believe, take that leap of faith, that in Jesus all will be made new, that our loved ones do live on in his power and in his love – then we have such a message of comfort and hope.

The seasons turn – there is nothing we can do but enjoy what we have when we have it. We know things will change. We know life moves on and what may be great and strong and seem permanent does not last for  ever. We are invited to live in the present and drink in all that is good. We are invited to believe that when the end does come, there is new life and rebirth. We have to let go and let God. We have to trust. We have to remember Jesus’  great  promise – I am the resurrection and I am the life. He who comes to me shall never die.  And he who believes in me though he dies, yet shall he live”

May God’s peace and hope be with you all as you journey on with your own precious stories and particular sadness. As surely as spring follows winters coldness, may each of you find the warmth of God and the power of Jesus’ resurrection  sustaining and  guiding you. Amen

October 31, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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