2nd November - All Souls
Lamentations 3: 17-26; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 6: 37-40
In her novel, The Children of Men, PD James imagines a world where human fertility has suddenly dropped to zero. No more children are born. Is it due to an invisible virus perhaps? A global scientific effort to understand and then maybe reverse this disaster produces nothing. The novel begins 26 years later, when humanity has all but given up on a cure. As the human race faces extinction there is a crisis of meaning. Groups of young adults, who will be the last generation, roam the lands seeking transitory pleasure, unstable and violent. People dote obsessively on pets. The old are in despair: many submit to state-organised voluntary euthanasia.
One critic describes the novel as showing the importance of what he calls the “secular afterlife” – being remembered after we die but more than that the knowledge that we have a hand in shaping future generations, in even small ways which will live on. Without this sense of connection with those who will come after, life becomes pointless – irrespective of religious or spiritual belief.
That vital connection forward with future generations is matched by a connection back to those who have died. Human societies for millennia have remembered parents, grandparents, ancestors, have prayed for them, sought their help, and sensed their continuing presence.
I recall my cousin, not long after her mother had died, talking about this. She described a moment when she was driving and she realised that she held the steering wheel the same way her mother did and in that moment was overwhelmed with an acute sense of her presence and her love. I too felt that living echo of my father after he died: a feeling when I found myself moving like him, using his turns of phrase, a link opening up to his loving presence with me.
The invisible presence of those who have died, the importance of those who come after, are fundamental to what it means to be human, to our place in a continuum of life, a thread unbroken by death.
Some might argue that these instincts pre-date religion, which then overlays them with ritual and story. For my part, I see them as the imprint of God in the world, revealing a deeper truth, that all created beings are redeemed, drawn towards the fulfilment of the creative endeavour when heaven and earth become one. But there are mysteries here not captured by arguments or words. This is a dynamic hope, lived out as much as understood.
Jesus sees his calling as to be a focus for this hope. In our reading from John’s gospel he describes the Father who entrusts all of creation to his care, and charges him to lose nothing of what he has been given, but to return all faithfully to God in eternity.
Enduring hope is the theme which connects all our readings this evening. From the writer of Lamentations celebrating God’s faithfulness in patient waiting, to Peter’s celebration of the living hope, sustained through a Christ we cannot see, but know through the love which connect us.
So we remember those we have loved who have died, we dare to hope that they live on in eternity, trusting them to God’s care. Even though we struggle to imagine the life they now have, we pray for them, and ask for their prayers, which is what those who love each other do.
As we remember them as individuals, let us also affirm that they are together, that in the presence of a God who is love, there is a great crowd, drawn together in perfect friendship, in solidarity, and in shared joy.
Richard Young (Rector)