(Sermon includes Apocryphal text, Wisdom 3:1-9)
Last year I preached an All Soul’s day sermon after the actual All Souls day, so I was inclined to do the same this year. Around this time of year, not just because of the liturgical season, people (myself included) start to think about family and loved ones. We start planning for the holidays, we wonder who we’re hosting, we plan our travels, we buy gifts, we start cooking a lot…and we also remember. We think about the person we don’t get to buy for this year. We have an empty spot at our table that used to be occupied. We think of the lively, or caring, or calm spirit that graced our lives and our families with their presence, soul, and life force. And whether this loss is recent or from decades past, we mourn again. This is a time of year when loss is just as present as hope and joy. And some of us can carry onward, and some of us are overcome. Some of us exist in the space between the two.
There have been times when the thought of the afterlife comforts me, and other times it doesn’t. In doing grief work with folks over the years, I’ve found that some folks cling onto the thought of heaven with great fervor and earnest, knowing that their loved one is looking down on them and keeping a sort of “guardian” status from beyond the grave. For others, this can be triggering, and the finality of death is just too big a shadow to move beyond to some sort of eschatological “zen” space. I don’t know a whole lot but I do know what can be helpful and what oftentimes isn’t helpful. It’s not helpful to say, “God wanted another flower in God’s garden.” It’s not helpful to say, “This is God’s will.” It certainly doesn’t help to encourage people to cheer up, move on, and persevere. Those are not honest statements for me to speak. For me, my response is to answer with complete honesty from my own experience, saying “What happens after we die is a mystery to me, but daily I actively choose to live into the hope that those I love who have gone on are now at peace, and rest in the arms of a loving and gracious God.” This is also, more or less, how I choose to talk about death with children, who seem to be especially attuned to the concepts of life and death. What I know to be helpful is to bear witness to another person’s hurt and loss, to allow them the dignity of feeling their hurt and pain. The author Parker Palmer writes, “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed, exactly as it is.” As a pastor, I believe I am called to witness other people’s pain, not to fix and certainly not to save.
- Revelation 7:15 - 17