02 November 2014, Commemoration of All Souls
Revd Simon Cowling
Wisdom 3. 1-9; 1 Peter 1. 3-9
At the very beginning of St John’s Gospel there is a highly poetic description of the birth of Jesus. John’s account doesn’t have shepherds or angels – or even a baby. John tells us simply that God’s ‘Word’ – that’s his way of describing Jesus – was made flesh and lived, or dwelt, among us. Actually, neither the word ‘lived’ nor the more old-fashioned ‘dwelt’ quite conveys what John really means. The word he uses, if we translate it literally, means ‘pitched his tent’: Jesus ‘pitched his tent’ among us. It’s a striking word to use; and in the context of this service, where we gather to remember those whom we have loved and see no longer, the word is a reminder that Jesus’ life on earth – like the lives of those whom we will name later on – was framed by his birth and his death. No-one pitches a tent expecting it to be a permanent dwelling. We have to strike camp, sooner or later and move on.
Nothing I say this evening – nothing that anyone can say – is capable of assuaging the grief that losing a loved one brings. Those who shared our lives are gone; there are spaces where once were the tents in which they lived among us. But what the lived experience of Christians over the centuries can help us to do is to place the story of the lives of those whom we have loved in the wider story of God’s love for his people. God’s love begins with the very act of creation itself: in the first chapter of the Bible the writer describes how God makes human beings in his image and likeness. And this love, God’s love, is the golden thread that connects the first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis, with the last one, in Revelation, when we hear a vision of how God will come finally, and for ever, to dwell among his people. God’s new heaven and new earth will absorb all the frailty, the impermanence, all the suffering and separation of our present earthbound existence. Heaven and earth will become one, and death will finally be overcome, absorbed into the life that has no end.
Our New Testament reading helps us to understand what will help to sustain us between the sorrow we feel now and the joy of God’s new heaven and new earth – a joy that is yet to be. What will help to sustains us is what the writer describes as the ‘living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. This resurrection is a pledge of what is to come, God’s promise of what will be at the end of this age. Through his death, Jesus Christ has hollowed out the full stop of the grave and made it into a gateway from death to a fuller life with God, the God who in his infinite love and mercy, will bring to completeness the work of his creation begun, continued, and ended in love. Amen.