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2nd November 2014 - Sunday Evening - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Address for All Souls, 2014
Lamentations 3. 17-26
John 6. 35-40

This annual service - when it is so good to see so many of you gathered here together, is all about hope. Hope and trust, or faith if you like. We gather because we believe - or at least, would like to believe, that there is hope for us and for our loved ones. That death - although it never ceases to shock and upset us - is not the end of anything in truth - but the beginning of a whole new life, a new existence. And we know that one day we too will pass that way - we will experience our re-birth (aka death) as we move beyond the reach of this life and we trust that at that moment we shall in some wonderful and mysterious way, be reunited with all those whose presence now, this evening, we miss and mourn.

Some of you will be remembering someone whose loss is very recent. Others will be remembering losses that may stretch back over many, many years. This year - 100 years on from the start of WWI many of you, like me may be particularly remembering grandparents or great grandparents who were part of that cataclysmic event and who lost their lives or whose lives were forever changed by those four years of conflict.

It is part of the great privilege of the role I hold and attempt to carry out, that I get to meet people and their close relatives on the threshold of death. Some are able to contemplate that inevitable event with calmness - even serenity - embracing death as an old and welcome friend. Some find it harder to let go, or have to endure suffering and hardship. Some families find it harder than others to let them go and will then find it difficult to discuss their memories - they are almost too precious - or too painful, to share with anyone else. Some families love to speak with ease and at some length, finding comfort and solace in shared memories and laughter.

Some want to apologise to me or my colleagues in ministry, for the inevitable tears that flow.... but never regret your tears. They are the signs of deeper healing and are the moments when I believe God may well be closer to you than at any other time. At the time of Jesus, the tears of mourners were gathered, collected in little bottles made specially for this purpose. They would then be poured out onto the graves of loved ones, a special sacrifice or libation for God.
So learn to value and accept your tears - and never apologise to me for shedding them.

Increasingly today, people with life-limiting conditions will come across the work of the Hospice movement and many of us may spend our final days and hours benefitting from their care - either in a Hospice unit, or at home with the care and support of hospice nurses. Many of you have told me how wonderful your experience of the Hospice has been. And for those of you who have never been inside one - it is an experience I can recommend! Where you might expect to find tears and sorrow and a rather sombre atmosphere, your will find anything but. The tears are more likely to be those of laughter and shared reminiscence than those of grief - although grieving has its place there too of course. Some of you have gone on to offer your help and support as volunteers there - and I know you will back me up.

This year I had personal experience of the Severn Hospice as the husband of a good friend of mine passed away there this summer. Yes it was sad - Mike was not yet 70 and was still actively serving as a priest in the Church in Wales. But apart from his vocation as a priest - which came after careers in the Police Service and as a Legal Officer, Mike was above all a family man. His relationship with his two children - now grown and about to embark on marriages and families of their own, meant the world to him. Spending his last few weeks at the Hospice meant that they had plenty of time and opportunity to be with him - day and night. He was able to enjoy some final pints of Guiness with his son, Jamie, and some ice-creams with his daughter, Katie, and all the family are able to look back on those final weeks with happy memories as well as the inevitable sadness that Mike is no longer here to share the coming Christmas season with them.

This year too, this parish took part in a pilot study, trialling something called Grave Talk. Now this is different from a typical bereavement group - as valuable as such things can be at times. Grave Talk gave an opportunity for anyone from the community to come and have a 'guided conversation' considering issues around the end of life. It was held in a 'café style environment' with plenty of tea and cake. Those who came told us they enjoyed and valued the experience and this is something I hope we can organise again - perhaps on a regular basis once or twice a year - so keep a look out for posters advertising our next one!

This year has also seen the 100th anniversary of the birth of the poet Dylan Thomas, and so - (with apologies to my Welsh friends here,) I leave you with some lines from his most famous work...

Every morning, when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make:
Oh please to keep thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures, born to die.
And every evening at sundown
I ask a blessing on the town;
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch and go.
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood;
And Thou, I know wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.
Oh let us see another day;
Bless us this night, I pray.
Then to the sun we all will bow
And say Goodbye - but just for now.