Looking around beautiful Ovingdean at this time of the year a Cynthia Rylant quote comes to mind: “In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures. The bed is white and silent, and much life can hide beneath its blankets.”
Winter is not a favourite season of mine, though November and of course December are in many ways lovely months….with frosts, mists, fireworks, bonfires and the great feasts of All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance and then of course Advent and Christmas.
All Souls is a special feast where we remember and give thanks for those we have loved and are no longer with us. We commend them to God’s mercy and trust in God’s love and care for them. As the parish priest, with a busy churchyard, I am aware that many in the village will at this time of year be thinking and praying for their loved ones who have passed over. Indeed Queen Elizabeth’s recent passing I know was difficult for many because of the reminder it brought of the family and friends who are no longer with us. With this in mind I thought I would reflect a little on the subject of death that we all too often don’t discuss.
The Benedictine Abbot, Dom Aelred Watkin wrote deeply and I think helpfully about death in his reflection entitled ‘Resurrection is Now’. He observes that death may be a beginning, but we feel that it is also an end. And this ending we feel in a thousand ways when a loved one's voice seems forever silenced. Death is in us, about us and around us. We live in a world of both budding spring and dead leaves, of new beginnings and of fading footprints upon roads where we may no longer pass.
Aelred goes on to say ‘Any consideration of death, therefore, must involve a consideration of these two great cross-currents of human experience: on the one hand, that all is passing and we with it; on the other, that we are part of a dynamic and creative force which is independent of and triumphs over destruction and decay. These cross-currents appear to be so opposed, so much in conflict with each other, that hope and despair, creation and destruction, seem irreconcilable’. ‘In the midst of life’, then, ‘we are in death.’ If there is one certain event in human life, death is it. We know that we shall die. We may attempt to forget it, we may even deliberately ignore it but death is inescapable. Life and love though are no mere passing matters - the soul endures and there is much more to come.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the sure knowledge that love is stronger than death and that hope transcends separation. Death is not the end but the start of the next part of our journey home to our Creator. The divine revelations of Lady Julian of Norwich showed that no one and nothing is lost; all is loved and all will be made well. Death is not an end, but a beginning and with this understanding I believe we are asked how and in what way we can prepare ourselves to pass through that gateway into the unknown.
Faith of course is a central component to this preparation and I hope in the new year to re-run the Alpha course where there is the opportunity to ask and explore questions such as ‘Is there more to life’ and ‘Can I have faith’. In the meantime I’m always here if you have questions and everyone is welcome to attend the All Souls service on Wednesday 2nd of November at 6.30pm.
In other news, a great big thank you to all who ensured Harvest and the Big Green Week went so well. Also, a great big well done to Teresa and Derrick and the Churchyard gardening group for achieving the prestigious Silver Gilt award from South and South East in Bloom. Thank you for all you do. Finally, a huge congratulations to the 8 members of the congregation who were Confirmed by Bishop Martin on the 14th October. We continue to pray for a further 3 members of the congregation who will be Confirmed in January. What a blessing you all are.
Advent starts on Sunday 27th November and our wonderful Advent Carol service this year will be on Sunday 4th of December. Everyone is very welcome.
Love and best wishes