WelCom November 2018:
Fr James Lyons
The memorial notices in our papers invariably list the names of people close to the one who has died: partner, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, dear friends. It’s a litany of connection, announcing a life shared with many others – and a life that would have less value without them.
From the moment of birth, we are drawn into life-giving relationships – at first to meet our own needs, but then to help others. This mutual exchange giving reassurance that the greatest need of all is being met: the need to know I are am not alone, forgotten or abandoned.
We are never more Christian than when we give of ourselves for the good of others. For then we are witnessing to life, and to hope, and to the conviction that love alone is victorious – even over death.
The famed astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, in a book published earlier this month [October 2018] – just a few months after his death – claimed he had finally answered the ultimate question: there is no afterlife or supreme being, and that the words used in the Christian burial service say it all: we are dust and to dust we will return. What do you think?
Those who came to the tomb of Jesus, came with sweet smelling spices to anoint a body already beginning to decay. They were astonished to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They couldn’t believe and thought those who did were deceived by their grief, until they remembered his words. The reality of the resurrection dawned slowly, even reluctantly, like the morning itself; but once realised, nothing and no one could shake their belief.
Later, Peter would write of a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…imperishable, undefiled, unfading.
It is this living hope that has brought us together in our shared tradition of honouring the dead – not merely in memory, but in our firm belief that in death life is changed, not ended. Made in the image of God, we are called to grow in that image until we meet God, face to face. It is, for most, a difficult journey; the unknown challenges our need to know; it opens to what seems a simpler solution: believe in nothing!
The season of spring is, for me, an image of the struggle we have coping with wanting to know what we cannot yet know. In springtime, the weather is all over the place – winter blasts keep pushing away the sun trying to make its appearance. It’s as though spring can’t let winter go because it knows it so well; reluctant to let the sun through, fearing the unknown ahead. We find it hard to let go of the here and now; having no idea of the summer awaiting us.
“We find it hard to let go of the here and now; having no idea of the summer awaiting us.”
St Paul tells us that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into our minds what God has prepared for those who love Him. So, we cannot expect to know except by faith, and the hope this brings that we will indeed see our deceased loved ones again. We pray for them because they remain part of the family. As we loved them in life, we do not forget them in death.
Our connectedness holds creation together, weaved through the mystery of living and dying. There is a delicacy between us, fragile yet so necessary, requiring gentleness and gratitude, humility and hope. These are the garments that, if we wear them in life will keep us warm and loved in eternity.
Fr James Lyons wrote this reflection to deliver at the commemorative service for the Faithful Departed, Friday 2 November 2018, at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Wellington.