All Souls’ Day 2010
Revelation 21. 1-6
I don’t know about you, but I have found that in the immediate aftermath of bereavement it is often the small things that trip us up. Things like the jarring experience of seeing other people apparently just getting on with their lives. You come out from registering the death and see people laughing and joking in the street outside. On the way to the funeral you see people out shopping, children in tow; all they care about is whether they’ve remembered the washing powder or the cat food. How can it be, when your whole world has changed so radically, that they can go on as if nothing had happened? Of course they have no idea what has happened to you, but it still doesn’t seem right.
W.H. Auden began his famous poem about bereavement with the memorable words, “ Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,” but the truth is that even if we did stop the clocks, time would still flow on. Life would still flow on. And there is nothing we can do about it.
Watching things change can be really painful when you’re grieving ; the one you want to share those changes with is no longer there to see them. Things happen that they can never be a part of – a grandchild is born, a son or daughter gets married. I have often found that people who are apparently coping well with a bereavement are completely thrown backwards by the death of a pet, or a house move. That pet, or the home they made together might be the last link with the person who has died, bearing many memories of shared times together, and it is the final straw when they are lost too.
But time flows on. Life flows on. Whether we like it or not new things happen, new opportunities present themselves, new challenges must be met. The sun keeps coming up in the morning and new days dawn one after another.
The poem I read just now was written during the Second World War. The poet, George Barker, writes it for his much loved mother who was, by all accounts quite a character. She lived in London through the Blitz – she had tried evacuation, but found the countryside too boring – but of course living in London meant she was surrounded by death and the threat of death as the bombs fell. Like many at that time she was bereaved again and again. Yet Barker’s picture of her shows that he knows her well. However terrible these times are, he trust her ability to cope with them. He knows that she will, in time move from “mourning into morning.” I had to print the poem because otherwise we might miss what he is saying. She moves from mourning – with a u – to morning, without – from grief to a new day. It may not be the day she wanted to see and it will certainly be a different day from the ones she knew before, but he trusts her strength and her courage. He knows she will find a way to carry on living, and living with spirit and verve too.
From mourning into morning. That’s the promise of the Bible reading we heard too. It comes from the Book of Revelation, that great vision of heaven which John had on the island of Patmos. He was in exile, in fear for his own life and for the lives of the friends he’d left behind, the people he loved. Some of them had probably already met death at the hands of the Romans and others would soon do so. How could they – and he - cope with this endless grief and fear? But his vision reassures both him and them. God is with them. He will “make all things new”. His love will never be defeated by the darkness of the world. No one and nothing will be beyond his power to hold and to heal – he makes “all things” new, not just some of them.
Today it is right to look back and to remember those we love who have died. It is right to thank God for all they have meant to us. It is right to treasure our memories. But it is also right to look forward, to ask God to help us move from “mourning into morning”, to dare to trust that there will be good things in the future, small or great, and that those we mourn would want us to embrace and enjoy them. We do them no favours if we let our lives wither in grief.
After our prayers in a moment, I am going to invite you, if you want, to come up to the front to light a candle for those you are remembering today. But as you leave the church, I’d like to invite you also to take for yourself one of these daffodil bulbs. Plant it somewhere as a reminder to you of the promise of that God who makes all things new. When it flowers in the spring let it remind you that every new day is a gift to us, one which those we love surely would have wanted us to treasure and live to the full.