Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Time for Reconciliation.

In case you had not noticed, Christmas is coming. People sometimes say that 'the magic has gone's not the same as it used to be'. What do you expect? What did you hope to see? If you hoped for a feeling which is the same as you used to have as a child, then maybe you're in the queue for seeing reeds blowing in the wind. If, however, you came to see the Son of God, then you have found the right place. The O Antiphons remind us, along with the scripture readings for the week, that Christ, the fulfiller of many prophecies, the summit of the dreams of the Jewish people, is to be born. The manner of His birth and the manner of His life and death suggest that we should look beyond the childlike joy, however, at the manner of our own lives. The most important thing that John the Baptist says is that we should prepare the way of the Lord, make His path straight! This refers to us individually as well as in the local and wider Church setting. Here is a time to prepare our souls, to stop division in our relationships with others and in the Church. To stop carping about rites of Mass 'oh, I will have to travel X thousands of miles on Christmas day to find a Mass that ....' Insert 'feeds my ego'. Stop being silly, Christ was born in a stable. By divine plan.

The best way I can think of to prepare yoourselves for Christmas is by making peace with God, and through that will, I hope, come peace with your neighbour and also by praying for the dead. By remembering your loved ones passed before you, marked with the sign of faith and those whose faith is known, now, to God alone. If you can do this, if you can attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation and if you can pray for your loved ones who will spend Christmas in heaven, then you will, I am sure, rediscover some of the magic and the joy of Christmas. The truth will, if your hearts be pure, set you free.

Here is the text of a sermon I preached for an Advent service of reconciliation.

All Souls day is a day which we have cause to be thankful for, it has been hard won for us. The Church of England for a long time did not allow prayers for the dead to be said in it’s churches and for a long time after that the practice fell into disuse. However, in popular piety, people continued asking God , his mother, and the Saints to look after the souls of the departed for them, and why not? Jesus Himself said that there are many rooms in his fathers house, our loved ones are on the last stage of the journey there now, being washed clean through the blood of the lamb, in the darkness drear following their one true light, singing alleluia, alleluia, their eyes ever fixed on Jesus and His mother. We are joined in celestial unity with them as we join in the never ending masses and prayers for the dead here, we are as close as we can be! Just because we cannot see the spiritual world, does not mean it is not there, if I tell you this lectern is made of blancmange, it does not mean you can eat it, what is, is, and the great cloud of witnesses tell us, and point us toward our eventual destiny, the kingdom of Heaven, which is as real as this lectern and where our loved ones really are, we must not doubt this, for there lies the mysterium fidei, the mystery of our faith. They have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, the faith we share and the faith that will lead us over the Jordan, to the place where they are.

It is true we must die. We shall not take our earthly bodies with us. They remain here because they belong to the stuff of the material world. But the person, the individual -whatever it is that makes you and me - shall be raised and clothed with a body adequate for the condition of its new existence. Before Christ's resurrection death brought an end to life but after his resurrection a new hope was given. This made St. Paul write with confidence `Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?"

To every Christian who believes in "the life of the world to come" death is but a gate which leads into fuller and more beautiful life in which God shall wipe away all tears from all faces where there shall be no more pain, no sorrow, no crying and no more death, a life in which we shall see God as he is and be with him forever. To the Christian who believes, this, Death can not come too soon either to oneself or those we love. We need not fear for ourselves or our loved ones to enter a life which we believe to be infinitely better and happier. We may grieve because of the separation but our hope must be maintained that the dead do live. Our belief in the Communion of Saints brings us nearer to those who are gone from us. It encourages us to do the good things they did that we may after this life be where they are. The life on this earth is not all, it can not end here. There must be a life beyond where the tangle of the time we share now will be shown and the inequalities of today put right, pain to be taken away and anxious hearts be stilled by the healing waters of the Holy Ghost.

Those who die in Christ are near to God. They are only sleeping. Death is only a night's kiss from God, it is not death to those who love God. It is an exodus. It is a going home to God. Jesus’ resurrection teaches us that God can overcome death and pain and tears and his love leads us home. We need to convince ourselves that God is love and it is when we take God seriously as love that we know that death can not be the end. The love of God which brought us into being follows us until the end into eternity. So St. Paul was bold to write "For whether we live, we live up to the Lord and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore or die we are the Lords." (Romans 14:8). Our seal of salvation when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and signed with the cross, that seal is not obliterated even in death. Death does not end our relationship with Christ. The faithful rest in Him. The life beyond the grave becomes a manifestation of divine love and there is an entrance unto real life. So a higher and better life than this belongs to the souls of the faithful. We believe in Jesus Christ who died, who has risen and will come again. Jesus lives and the faithful will also live because death is swallowed up in victory.