There are many mysteries that we encounter in life which we find hard to fathom. Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is the relationship between love and loss. There is a price to being loved, a price to being able to savour and rejoice in that deep connection we might have with someone. The price is feeling wounded when that connection is broken. This morning at this Time to Remember service we come before God so deeply aware of the many broken connections that each of us endures. Blessed are those who mourn, for they have had something to lose. Blessed are those who dare to risk loss—only they can possibly know love. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
We know full well the extent that we have received the incredibly precious gift that that relationship to another has given us. I often say at funeral services that we are different people through having known that person who has passed away; such is the legacy that they leave behind and it is a truly incredible and priceless legacy.
When we pray for “those whom we love but see no more,” we are entering another mystery, the ability to love what is not physically present. That ability is the essence of spirituality. Each of us had to learn early on as children to endure the absence of our mothers by learning to hold a mental image of mother in our minds until we were with her again, and by learning to believe that she loved us even when we couldn’t see her. As adults gathered in a very intimate kind of prayer today, the image we hold in the silence of our hearts is the image of those who have gone before us. On the simplest level, they are gone but they remain, because knowing them shaped our very personalities. More profoundly, they are gone but they remain in unbroken relationship to us through the eternal love of God, a realization that is a balm to our sense of loss. When we receive love from someone, and share love with them, it is a glimpse or a foretaste of the love that God has for us, that love that endures forever.
And so we remember ‘the faithful departed’, ‘those whose faith is known to God alone’, those whose lives have had such an impact on us, and likely will continue to have an impact on us. But it’s also about you and me too, because death, far from dissolving the relationships that have formed us in this life, exposes, sometimes with merciless clarity, their true nature and meaning. We often find ourselves at our most real, our most vulnerable and as in the words of that first reading we may find that we have been deprived of peace or literally our soul is bereft of peace; and we forget what happiness or prosperity looks like.
The thing is though we have to remember; this isn’t because we believe that God’s mercy can only be triggered by our action and prayers, but because it is our life task to hold in our mind and heart those who are given to us through kindred and affinity, whether as family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. This task transcends the boundaries of life and death. If we are honest with ourselves, it matters to us that we should know that we shall not be forgotten, that we leave behind some trace of ourselves in the memories and experiences of those with whom we have shared our lives. So it matters that we do what the poet Rilke called ‘heart-work’ for the dead whom we remember in love and truth. It matters to the dead. It matters to the living.
We have to remember because there is another mystery – in that hope and remembering are joined together; it is almost as if you can’t have on without the other. So we have to remember that we might have hope. No matter where we might be in our faith, in this shifting uncertain world, it is through hope that we might become are of God’s enduring presence and comfort. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. For people are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to any human being. God weeps as you weep. God gives us strength to prevail and grace and mercy when we fail.
Our dying is a part of our living, and the dead whom we remember today are as known to God and precious to him as we are – because in faith we hope that death is not the end. To love in the truth is always to try to love from God’s eternal perspective. So to remember the dead truly is to hope that they might be enfolded in God’s everlasting love, to know that in him all the fragments of human life are gathered up: nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.
To look death in the face, as we do on this day of resurrection is both to find comfort in our grieving, and renewal for ourselves to go on living and blessing God for the gift of being alive, the gift of having known love and loving.
Jesus said “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” We must have the courage to hope that when our time comes it may be with thankfulness that in our faltering way we were faithful unto death, that we touched the lives of a few others, that we were blessed to know love and to give it; and that our goodbyes were bathed in the light of Easter faith, as we in faith are welcomed to our eternal home. So today when you light a candle remember these words:
We light a tender candle / as fragile as a friend,
A flame against the darkness, / a love without an end;
And pray his resurrection / unquenchable will blaze,
Sustaining human frailty / in Love’s eternal gaze.