And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:3-4 NRSV)
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
(John 14:2 NRSV)
The Festivals of All Saints (1st November) and All Souls (2nd November), certainly come at a fitting time of the year, and they are much more profound than the nonsense which Halloween has become. (Halloween – “All Hallows Eve” – draws its name from the fact that it is the eve of All Saints Day).
But these two festivals engage with us at the levels of our faith and our sense of mortality. The days are shorter and the nights are drawing in and memories of the passing year, and of passing time, come to the fore. And so this time of year is naturally a time of remembrance.
On All Saints Day we give thanks for those men and women, famous and unknown, who have, little by little, changed the world by living their Christian values, by putting Christ at the centre of their world, in their everyday, ordinary lives.
On All Souls Day we give thanks for our loved ones, those who have nurtured us and cared for us, befriended us, protected us and taught us – and we do so especially for those whose loss we have recently borne.
A few days hence, of course, in the UK we remember with pride and thanksgiving those who have paid the greatest price in the wars and conflicts of our land; whose gift and sacrifice has kept us safe; something we so often take for granted.
It is a time for Remembering.
There are many things which we share as part of our common humanity and, sadly, suffering and death is one of them.
And yet, each death, each loss, is such a personal thing. The person we mourn is a husband, a wife, a mum or a dad, a grandmother or grandfather, a child, a relative, a partner, a friend, a lover. The grief is raw and personal, and we think that no-one can understand what we are going through.
And that is true; because no matter how psychologists attempt to label our feelings, grief is a very individual phenomenon. It’s different for each of us, even though there may be some common threads.
The feelings associated with the loss of a loved one cut to the core of who we are as human beings. It can cause us to ask some very fundamental questions about the meaning of life.
Sadly, for example, at such times some people give up on God, because their grief brings out a very understandable sense of anger. They blame God for their loss. How could a “Good God” allow this to happen to me, to him, to her? If this is the place you are in, have a look in your Bible at Psalm 22. See how it begins; see how it ends.
Then, if you have time, take a look at Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 23, verses 33-48.
For other people, however, those fundamental questions of existence and the meaning of life set them off on a journey which draws them closer to our Lord. The pain is just as deep, but somehow it seems a little more bearable because of their hope and trust in the words of our Lord.
That’s what hope is; not a form of wishful thinking, (as in “I hope things turn out for the best.”), but rather a trust in the promises of God.
And we catch just a glimpse of those promises in the two excerpts at the top of this page.
The passage from the Book of the Revelation was written at a time of great tribulation; and yet the writer is able to describe a vision where God has put an end to pain and suffering – death even, and will wipe our very tears away. That passage, and other similar ones, have given great comfort and consolation to millions of people through the centuries, and continue to do so around our world today.
In the passage from John’s Gospel we hear Jesus reminding his bewildered friends of their eternal hope. He speaks of a house with many rooms which he prepares for us, and even offers to be our guide.
He couldn’t be clearer: there is a place in God’s eternal Kingdom for all. It is a powerful metaphor of the truth that death is not the end, but simply a way-point on the journey. And, Jesus went on to demonstrate that truth through his own suffering and death – and his glorious resurrection.
What many of us want to know, when we lose a loved one, is “is that the end? Is there more? Is there really a heaven? If so, is the person I love there and in safe hands?”
The words of Jesus spoken just before his own terrible suffering, offer us that reassurance, that true hope.
No one else may be able to understand what we are going through in our grief – but God does; and, if we allow him to, he will enter the painful silence and emptiness of our hearts, and bring us healing and hope – hope for our loved ones and for ourselves. Hope that God will eventually wipe away our tears, in that house with many rooms; hope, not to give up and retreat into ourselves, but to continue our lives until that promise is fulfilled for each of us.