November 1, 2017

2017 Nov1

All Soul's Day

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger at the All Souls’ Day Service


O Lord, we are your servants; and the children of your handmaids; in death, you free us from our bonds. Let us offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord. Amen.


This evening we are here to remember those we love who have died. It’s both painful and joyful to be here, or to visit a grave, or to be reminded by an object or an event. The Church is not only pragmatic about the pain and joy of remembering the dead, our theology and faith in Jesus Christ comes from the pain and joy of death. Christ died so that we might have eternal life. That’s the whole premise of the Christian faith. Everything else we do day-in-day-out is bonus!


There are 9 questions at the end of the Catechism, the answers to which say more than I could ever say about our understanding of why we are here tonight. One of the questions is probably the most obvious: Why do we pray for the dead?


I don’t think anyone here would refute the answer:


“We pray for them, because we
 still hold them in our love, and
because we trust that in God's
presence, those who have chosen
to serve Him, will grow in His
love, until they see Him as He is.”


We still hold them in our love. That is undeniable. And the never-ending quest to understand who or what God is, we believe, does end when we cross that threshold from our earthly life to everlasting life when “we see God as He is.”


From there, the natural follow-on is to ask: What do we mean by heaven and hell? It’s amazing how many people, even people who claim not to have a faith, believe in the 3-tiered vision of the universe: Heaven is above, earth is here, and hell is below. Many of us don’t believe that Heaven or Hell are geographic, but it’s just useful for conversations. The answer to the question also gives us a reason to be here this evening:


“By heaven, we mean eternal life
 in our enjoyment of God; by hell,
we mean eternal death in our
rejection of God.”


Part of being here, for praying for the dead – those we love – is to believe that they are experiencing eternal life in their enjoyment of God. We used to pay priests to say Mass to give our loved ones a better chance of entering that enjoyment, but unfortunately we abandoned both the practice and the beliefs around it during The Reformation (which, by the way, was begun 500 years ago yesterday).


So, the next question that comes to mind is: What do we mean by everlasting life? Americans spend about $150Bn a year on anti-aging products. Our drive to preserve our youth and to preserve our time on this planet provide an alternative to a core element of the Christian faith. Death is not the end.


“By everlasting life, we mean a
new existence, in which we are
united with all the people of God,
in the joy of fully knowing and
loving God and each other.”


In other words, we will be reunited with those whom we love and remember tonight. Those who we are remembering this evening are fully knowing and loving God and each other. Those words don’t do justice to our understanding of everlasting life. “Fully” should be understood as the most superlative of superlatives, because “fully knowing God” is something that is so deeply significant that it has been the quest of our entire Judeo-Christian history.


I won’t take you through the entire Catechism section on everlasting life. But two more questions are important for us in this moment now. What is the Christian hope? “Hope” is such a vague term as a noun. Most people couldn’t define it, or perhaps don’t even have hope. That’s my question for people who are not of faith: What is hope?


The Christian hope is to live with
confidence in newness and
fullness of life, and to await the
coming of Christ in glory, and
the completion of God's purpose for the world.


It reminds me of the joke, “Jesus is coming! Look busy!” While that may resonate with us sometimes, we have the hope that Christ will come again and make all things new. We proclaim it in our Eucharist Prayer: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!”


The last question to share with you this evening is: What, then, is our assurance as Christians? The answer to this question gives me the greatest comfort in my times of need, and it helps me understand the death of loved ones and my own eventual death. Our assurance as Christians is that


nothing, not even death, shall
separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

© 2020 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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