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A Sermon preached at the service for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, on All Souls day, 2nd November 2020 by the Precentor Canon Victoria Johnson
Title: Weeping over the Grave, we make our Song.
There is something defiant about being a Christian. We are subversives. We are radicals. In a world where many argue that we are made to be purely functional, rational, material beings, we believe there is something more. We are marked with the sign of the cross at our baptism which brings hope out of defeat and life from death. In a world often devoid of hope, we live in hope- open to possibilities which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, open to new life emerging from a stone cold tomb, however impossible that may seem.
Christian hope is not naïve. We are not delusional. Christian hope is not a quick win- it is not always the consolation we expect it to be- it does not immunize us against pain or sorrow or death. Our hope does not make loss any easier. Christians are not blind to the realities of mourning and loss and loneliness.
But despite all this, against all this – there is something that makes us hold on, through doubt and fear, to the promise that we have been given. We hold on to a living hope- the promise of eternal life, a life beyond this- the promise of a love which overcomes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things and cries out in defiance- where O death is your sting? Where is your victory?
We hold on to a living hope -a promise that this is not the end- life and love are somehow impossibly, defiantly, victorious -refusing to be extinguished, crossing over the great chasm of death, so that nothing is lost. We hold on to a living hope that through Christ all will be raised up on the last day.
The words of the Russian Contakion of the departed, a gift from the Eastern Church, are often read, or sung at funeral services. They are echoed in the prayer before our act of commemoration today:
Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting.
“Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”
All we go down to the dust;
and weeping o’er the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Whether the wound of grief is raw or whether it has healed over but leaves a painful scar- These words convey the reality, that it is through tears that we make our song at the graveside, but we make that song nonetheless. That song is strangely not a lament- through our tears we are called sing the most joyful word that a human being can express- Alleluia- Alleluia we sing, defiantly, subversively, hopefully.
We are here this evening to remember to sing Alleluia through our tears and lift our eyes in hope towards Christ himself. Though we are dust and to dust we shall return, we know that we are also drawn beyond this earth. As Christians we own our mortality, but we believe that there is more. We believe that nothing is lost to Christ, and he will gather all things to himself, to raise them up on the last day.
We can see that there is light despite the darkness, we can accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope, we can sing Alleluia and while weeping make our song over the grave- In God’s power alone we are given strength to leave our loved ones to rest in his eternal embrace as light perpetual shines upon them, so that we might live each day in hope, sustained by the love of God in Jesus Christ which never ends, which spans heaven and earth.
For us, death does not have the last word- it is not the final full stop.
In the grammar of the church, in this service- through music, through scripture, through the sacrament, under the light of the paschal candle and by the reading of names in prayer, we stand firm in the new birth of our living hope. We believe incredibly, miraculously, defiantly that Christ is the Resurrection and the life, and through him we may have life in his name, as our loved ones rest in his peace, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting, for they have been raised up on the last day. Alleluia.
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