All Souls, 2014
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.