Sunday, 5 November 2017

Memorial and Thanksgiving Reflection

Memorial Service 2017

Jenny Uglow is a well respected biographer and she has recently published a new book about Edward Lear. The review I read was uncomplimentary. We remember Lear for his nonsense poetry (the pobble who has no toes) and perhaps limericks like this one:

There was an old man of the Hague
Whose ideas were exceedingly vague
He built a balloon to examine the moon
That deluded old man from the Hague.

In her biography though Jenny noted that before this fame he was a traveller, visiting many countries and writing about them. Her book lists all of his destinations including intricate details of his journeys and accounts of the trains, steamers, roads, rivers and omnibuses that he took to reach them. The reviewer criticises her for missing the essence of Lear. I had previously been thinking about what we say at funerals and how we feel sometimes obliged to give an account of a person’s doings in life.

I could for example tell you of my grandmother, that she was born in Cork, moved after being married to Wembley, had two children,was widowed early and lived a long time. But my memory of Nana is something different. She was the woman who came to stay on feast days and holidays, who arrived mysteriously, and turned the house upside down, who unpacked as soon as her bag had barely crossed the threshold, odd helpful gadgets for my mother, paper and crayons for me. She was the woman who bustled with boundless energy, short, round, compact, who would finish her meal before anyone else and hover by your plate to whisk it into the sink the moment you laid aside your knife and fork. Nana who would be always cheerful, laughing, who liked chocolates by the boxful and a whisky before bed and though impossibly impatient was ready to do anything for you.  

Somewhere in there is some of the essence of Nana, and we all have such  memories of the one we love, not ordered, detailed or set to a timetable but a great splash of luxurious colour on the canvas and we know that essence to be unique and somehow we know that spirit is still there in heaven waiting for us.

When I light my candle I will not be lighting it for Nana’s accomplishments  but for the person she was, the person I know and the one I shall keep in my heart for ever.


All Saints : Revelation 7:9-end

Nearly all the retired people I meet, and by now I have met quite a number, say something like “I don’t know how I found the time to work!” Now I am not entirely sure why this should be so but I am, not quite yet you understand, hoping to find out. I am also hoping to find out what heaven is like and this morning we have heard John’s vision of what is happening there. The earliest parts of the book of Revelation, the letters to the churches and the depiction of the trials of judgement day are concerned with what was happening on earth but now we come to a description of salvation, what is happening up there. Although less surprising to us, reading some nineteen hundred years later, the opening of this passage would have been stunning and shocking to first century Jewish readers.

“There was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. “ Stunning and shocking to the seven year old convent boy who even now remembers being told that Protestants were going down. At the time it struck me as very harsh and you will be pleased to know I have abandoned the doctrine. But still we might wonder what we mean when we celebrate “All Saints.” The Penguin dictionary of saints begins with Aaron, who you will remember is a Romano-British saint martyred at Monmouth in the 3rd century and it ends with ZITA, who is patron saint of maidservants. There are many more in between but still even when we take the whole book there is not the “great multitude that no-one could count.”

“Who are these?”, we ask, and John gives us the answer: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”  

He begins then with a message of hope - “out of the great ordeal.” There is no tribulation or trouble so great that it can  to separate us from the love of God. Those standing before the throne have been persecuted by men, tempted by Satan, troubled in spirit and have lost life itself, yet they have come through it with faith intact. We know this for they have washed their robes - we would not wash our robes in blood, for blood stains, but this is the symbol of the blood of the lamb, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us, it is our faith in salvation that makes us clean. Jesus died for us and we can only get to heaven through his mediation. So All Saints are those who despite everything believe and trust.

If I have dropped the idea of saints being only Catholics I have retained the other thing that sister Mary Agatha told me which is that “heaven is seeing God.”  In our image of heaven we need to factor God in, for this is where God is to be seen. This is the most significant characteristic of the place.

“All the angels stood around the throne (and around the elders) and fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God.”

Even the angels fall on their faces - the most excellent of creation, who have never sinned, who are with God continually, not only cover their faces but fall in humblest adoration before the Lord. If they are moved in his presence to do this then how much more shall we be?

“They are before the throne and worship him day and night in his temple.”

We are sheltered by God, freed from hunger, thirst pain and tears. But like my image of lazy retirement, books, grandfather clocks, good claret I may have got it wrong. In heaven we are exceedingly moved to worship God, there we discover that we can praise him and there we may discover that heaven is a place that gives us rest but we are moved to worship day and night and so refreshing yes but not a place of sloth.