The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
Confidence is one of the three components of the Diocese of London’s vision for 2020. In that context ‘Confidence’ is about leadership and communicating with the world at large. Confidence can be good, but it can also be unhelpful. It’s the word journalists use when they want to really make a politician squirm, make them avoid giving assurance that the outcome of a new initiative is known. For those of no faith, or little faith there can be some misconception that a Christian’s confidence in eternal life means there is no need to mourn, that death is nothing to fear. The reality is that despite many images of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ parables, confidence in the face of death is difficult. Images are good, but it doesn’t give us certainty.
Some may be familiar with the Children’s story, Waterbugs and Dragonflies, used to help children understand death. It portrays a water bug questioning what happens when another water bug climbs up a lily stalk, out of the pond, never to be seen again. The water bugs promise each other they will come back and tell the others what happens after they leave the pond, but it’s not until they leave the pond that they realise they have transformed into dragonflies and cannot return to console their friends.As the water bugs feel sorrow for the loss of their friends who have left the pond, never to return, they are also lost, not knowing what will come of them when they crawl out of the pond themselves.
Remembering others who have died we are reminded of our own mortality. We are reminded of the temporal nature of our life and the certainty of death. As we remember all the good things done by those who have died, we think of the seemingly unfairness of the world. As we remember the missed opportunities, the broken friendships, we are reminded of the pain of our own failings and the failings of the world in which we journey.
Society often encourages us to move on according to a defined schedule of grief. After a time we are apparently expected to be over it.
But then moments come up that bring to mind the ones we love. A favourite song or story. A common friend, a common resemblance. There can be guilt for not having moved on quickly enough, or for having moved on too quickly, or for things that we wish we had done differently. In the last few years, as I’ve moved towards the point of being ordained, I’ve found myself regularly remembering, with great intensity, the death of my grandfather, a priest, and a great hero of my childhood. Suddenly in waves of emotion, I’ve experienced remembering with almost all the senses. With those memories, even of happy moments, can come sorrow, sadness and guilt.
But while we do not know what eternal life will be, we are assured through the resurrection of Christ and the community we are gathered in, that we are not alone. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, he came to the disciples who had, after his death, become hopeless and witnessing his resurrection gave them confidence to go out and tell others about his life.
This evening’s gospel assures us that those who hear the voice of the Son of God will live. It doesn’t tell us what will happen to those who don’t hear. In fact we are reminded, that the Son of Man, who came to earth to reconcile us all to God, will be the one who casts judgement. Judgement here is not penal but restorative in nature. John tells us that ‘All who are in their graves will hear his voice.’ Each person, each one of us here and each person who we remember, is loved by God, a beloved child of the creator, who is given eternal life through Jesus Christ.
As we gather together here at this table, for a banquet of the kingdom, we remember, along with all our loved ones, the life of Jesus, in remembering, and in God’s remembering them and us, we are reminded of our restoration to God and to each other.
By eating Bread and Wine, we remember the body and blood of Jesus, the corporeal and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal are brought together. We eat this heavenly banquet not just with those here in this place, but with God and all who have lived. Those we have loved and those who we haven’t. All of creation brought together in this timeless moment of reconciliation and of hope.