This last year has reminded us starkly of a truth common to every human being – that each one of us one day will face the sorrow of being parted from those we love by death and ultimately the reality of our own death too. And this year we have been parted from some people who have played a very special part in the life of our community. Death is often pictured like a terrifying grim-reaper stealing away those we love. But St Francis in his Canticle of the Creatures writes:
‘Blessed are those who are found doing your most holy will for death will do them no harm’.
There are perhaps moments in all our lives when we glimpse that what separates us from those we have loved who have died is not some vast chasm but a thin veil and that we are still held together by the unseen chain of God’s love.
Perhaps death needs the same love as life does, the same compassion, the same forgiveness, the same healing, the same need to generously offer and give thanks. It is in this way we are called to remember the dead not as strangers but as witnesses, those loved by God and called into the company of heaven – those who have made a journey that all of us will one day make. When we recognise the presence of Christ at the very centre of all life – Christ with us, both within the world and beyond the world, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love – then death has no dominion.
I wonder if you can imagine what the letter to the Hebrews calls ‘a great crowd of witnesses’. Those who we know here and now in our mortal lives who have been our encouragers, our helpers, our friends, our inspirers. Perhaps you have your own favourite saints or witnesses, those who have excited you to holiness. It could be Mary mother of Christ or your own beloved grandmother or friend. That is the true meaning of All Saints and All Souls, those filled with the Spirit of Christ – the one who has gone before us and calls us all home and in whom we can never be separated.
Revd Richard Carter