Sermon 29th October 2023 ( All Saints and all Souls)

Readings Matthew 5, 1-14, Revelation 7, 9-17

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”

“for the Lamb  will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Such words, from Matthew’s gospel and from Revelation are frequently heard at such services as this, and funeral and memorial services, words of great comfort and hope to the faithful, words of great depth to the believer. But there is a sense in that in all of our faith, or even  lack of faith or belief  that when we are mourning, be it a recent loss or one of many years ago, when the pain is severe, when we feel alone, when the loss cuts deep, we might understand the words, but we find it hard to feel them, to really have a sense of being comforted or every tear being wiped away.

It's the human reality of loss, that empty space where another should be, that lack of a familiar face, the voice, the smile, the conversation or, indeed, the just being there.

It is undeniably, humanly, and deeply sad. And it is something that, despite the comfort and kind thoughts of friends, we have to go through alone, because that relationship was unique between yourself and that loved one, and no-one else can truly understand quite what you are feeling.

Except one. Except God. Oh, that might seem so trite and a rolled out answer to avoid the human discomfort of helpless grief, but the truth, the real truth is that God’s understanding, God’s compassion, God’s knowledge of our human pain is so much more than we can possibly imagine. We know that Jesus wept at Lazurus, his friend’s death, he experienced that dreadful sense of loss we all have known. But beyond that, the death of Jesus, that total separation he experienced from God which, because of him we will never have to suffer, that loss, that chasm as the Temple curtain was torn in two and the earth shook as darkness filled the sky, that separation of the very essence , the very substance of love is beyond our understanding of grief.

But it is precisely because of that death, that separation, that death was overcome in Jesus’ resurrection. Death no longer had a hold on humankind because the reality of eternity had been opened by Christ overcoming death.

Because love became complete again. The love of God for humankind, and a way back for humankind to know that perfect love again.

And why does that matter, why does that affect our sense of loss, how can that possibly bring blessings for those that mourn, how can that wipe every tear away?

It is because our grief is a result of our love, and our love is part of the image of God within us, it is God’s gift to us which we find and share with each other. And God’s love, and thus our love has no beginning or end, it is timeless, or eternal, it is the very reason we grieve, because we still love, because love does not die when our human life comes to an end. Our grief is part of our love and part of God’s love too. And those who have gone to be with God, however we imagine that may be, their love remains too, because love has no end. God, who is the source and the essence of all love becomes the bridge the completion of the circle, the only one who can give true comfort, who can truly wipe every tear away, for in the mystery of God’s eternity in that non-linear circular concept of time there is no difference between the love we have now, we had when our beloved was here on earth or that we will know again when we are together in eternity.

It is perhaps why we strangely somehow feel the presence of a loved one or feel them close, for their love is still present in that mysterious eternity.

It is why, when we can find time to come close to God in special places, in prayer or in solitude that we can also find we come close again to those we love through God because they are there, in the eternity of love that is and is of God, however we might understand that.

It's a mystery we shall never understand because God is beyond our comprehension, but if we believe in that infinite depth of love that is the very essence of God, then our grief and our love can be entwined in such a way that God’s comfort can bring us new life and new hope.

And for that, as for the life, memory and love of our loved ones, for that we can surely give thanks.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.