‘Into a living hope’ – 31st October 6.30pm – All Souls Memorial service

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21 10 31 Memorial service

21 10 31 Memorial service

The Reading

1 Peter 1. 3 – 2. 3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his
great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through
the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an
inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in
heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God
through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In
this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer
various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more
precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be
found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is
revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even
though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with
an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome
of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace
that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring
about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them
indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for
Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they
were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that
have now been announced to you through those who brought you
good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which
angels long to look!
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set
all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he
is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the
desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who
called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is
written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially
according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your
exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways
inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver
or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb
without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of
the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from
the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth
so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from
the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of
imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For
‘All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures for ever.’
That word is the good news that was announced to you.
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity,
envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure,
spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed
you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org 

The Sermon

By Joe P, a Reader at St. Mary's


I’d like to start tonight by with a quotation from a film that you may recognise:
“A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.”
That quotation is from the character Mr Bernstein in the film ‘Citizen Kane’. And it’s about a very powerful gift we have – that of memory.
Tonight we remember those we have loved and from whom we see no longer. Mr Bernstein has a vivid and powerful memory of a split second of experience from when he was a young man; such is the power of memory. A smell, a piece of music, the sight of a dress in a shop window may all trigger our memories of those we have lost.
When we remember those we have loved and lost, the triggers may be all around us, all the time.
As Christians, we look at our memories, and our responses to those memories, with the faith, hope and comfort that comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
But when we lose friends and family, it can be desperately hard to find comfort even with our faith. We love and remember those who’ve died.
We know that Jesus himself mourned deeply for the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he could bring him back.  It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that we mourn and feel sad about those we no longer have in our lives.
Our faith tells us that our loved ones are going ahead of us into the closer presence of God. But despite our faith and the hope within it, when our loved ones die, we still suffer.
Tonight’s reading is from Peter’s first letter, a letter of hope to those who find themselves amid suffering and uncertainty – those very situations where faith can be tested.
Although it’s addressed to Jewish and Gentile Christians in many places throughout Asia Minor, I think we all can take something from this letter with the uncertain times that we live in now and that we have recently experienced.
Peter acknowledges that those who read and listen to the words of his letter will have to ‘suffer grief in all kinds of trials’ but that it is through these times of trial that their faith will be refined and proved genuine.
When Peter says, ‘He has given us a new birth into a living hope’, ‘hope’ is loaded with a meaning for the readers of the letter than we might find surprising today. Today we often see ‘hope’ as a rather wishy-washy thing – a general desire for the best whilst fearing the worst.
In scripture, hope doesn’t mean this sort of ‘wishful thinking’. Hope  is a firm conviction for the future – in this case, a promise from the Lord; that they who believe and have faith in Jesus Christ will be resurrected in to a new life.
At the same time the reading also reminds us of how ephemeral and short our lives on Earth are; a sobering but potentially motivating thing for us to ponder on.
Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah – his audience would be aware of the source of the words:
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
There are many references in Old Testament scripture to the transience of human life on Earth. As well as Isaiah, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms would all be familiar to Peter’s audience and these words would echo with them, whilst at the same time standing in stark contrast to the eternal nature of the new life in Christ that the faithful are promised.
They’re told in this reading that they can rejoice in the knowledge that they’re protected by God’s power through their faith, until they get their ‘inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ – that of resurrection into a new life in the presence of God.
Powerful words of hope indeed from Peter.
But what of those who’re still living; those of us who mourn and grieve for those we miss. What do we have from God during our remaining time on Earth? I think we have two gifts.
First, we’re reminded of life’s brevity. In my diary for today I see the number 1172 at the top right of the page. Based on average male life expectancy for someone like me in the UK, that’s a guesstimate of the number of weeks I have left to live. It decreases by one every week. I update it every Sunday morning; it keeps me focussed.
Secondly, and most importantly, we have the gift of memory. A gift from God that starts off being sharp and painful, but that is smoothed down with time and life experience to become more comforting as time passes. A gift by which we can still express the love we have for those who’ve died, and in some cases, even realise through our memories that they loved us more than they let on at the time!
Marcel Proust wrote in his ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ that memory is “a sort of cutting [that] can be taken from one person and grafted on to the heart of another, where it continues to exist even when the person from whom it has been taken has perished.”
I’d suggest that the cutting is a gift of comfort from God, nourished by our love, and His grace, to keep a link between us and our loved ones.
They go ahead of us to the eternal and nearer presence of God; we who are left here are blessed with their presence in the form of those memories in our hearts and minds until we too join them in that New Heaven and New Earth that we are promised.
Thanks be to God!

The Prayers

Let us pray to the Lord, who has conquered death.

Jesus, bread from heaven,
you satisfy the hungry with good things:
grant us a share with all the faithful departed
in the banquet of your kingdom.
Hear us, risen Lord,
our resurrection and our life.
Jesus, the light of the world,
you gave the man born blind the gift of sight:
open the eye of faith
and bring us from darkness
to your eternal light and glory.
Hear us, risen Lord,
our resurrection and our life.
Jesus, Son of the living God,
you summoned your friend Lazarus from death to life:
raise us at the last to full and eternal life with you.
Hear us, risen Lord,
our resurrection and our life.
Jesus, crucified Saviour,
in your dying you entrusted each to the other,
Mary your mother and John your beloved disciple:
sustain and comfort all who mourn.
Hear us, risen Lord,
our resurrection and our life.
Jesus, our way and truth and life,
you drew your disciple Thomas from doubt to faith:
reveal the resurrection faith to the doubting and the lost.
Hear us, risen Lord,
our resurrection and our life.
May God in his infinite love and mercy
bring the whole Church,
living and departed in the Lord Jesus,
to a joyful resurrection
and the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom.