Sermon for All Souls Service, 4 November 2018
Follows the Gospel of John 6: 37-40
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away
into the next room.
I am I,
and you are you;
whatever we were to each other,
that, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way
which you always used,
put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air
of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we shared together.
Let my name ever be
the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all
that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
Henry Scott Holland (1847 -1918) said these words in a sermon in 1910 following the death of King Edward VII, titled Death the King of Terrors, in which he explored the seemingly contradictory responses to death: the fear of the unexplained and the belief in continuity. It is now popular at funerals.
Very optimistic words. Perhaps they sound too optimistic when we have lost someone we love very much. When we lose someone the last thing we want to say is “death is nothing at all”. For us at that moment the death of a loved one is all we can think about. Not nothing at all
But those words were written by somebody who really believed them. It wasn’t just sentimentality or wishful thinking. Henry Scott Holland was a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral at the beginning of the last century. For him, death could only be understood by looking at it from the viewpoint of heaven. The hope of life beyond what we know now was what gave him the courage to write “death is nothing at all”. And it’s also why he could end that poem with the words “All is well”. Without the hope of life with God forever there’s no way on earth we can say “All is well”.
1. The words of Jesus are reassuring today “this indeed is the will of my Father, that all who see the son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day”.
Listen to what Pope Francis says on the matter:
“Today is a day of memory that takes us back to our roots, It is also a day of hope. It reminds us of what we can expect: the hope of encountering the love of the Father.”
& that is what we hope for today, we pray that all is well for our loved ones who we have lost in the past year or longer ago. “Death is nothing at all” might be overstating it a bit but there is hope here. We still have to deal with the gap in our lives from the loss of someone. And as we all know this is not something you get over, its something you learn to live with. But amid the bad news of loss there is good news too. Good news doesn’t take away bad news or abolish it but coexists with it and gives it perspective.
The Good News is that in the end all will be well. That life here on earth is but a preparation for the life that is to come. This perspective allows us some consolation and hope.
As a symbol of our prayer everyone is invited to come forward and light a candle and place the name of their loved one on this tree of life.
The hope that Jesus offers us affirms what many of us believe, even if we can’t fully understand – that there is more to this world than we can see and touch.
Just as our love goes on through and beyond death – so does our life.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has this message for us:
“Today is All Souls Day. For all those walking through the darkness of grief and loss, I pray you know again the hope that heals, strengthens and draws us forward - the hope we find in Jesus, who was born and risked and died and rose again, and offers life to us and to all we love.”
Father Matthew BUCHAN