Sermons

Sun, Nov 04, 2018

All things new

Sermon for All Saints
Series:Sermons

Death is a part of life--

a part of the natural cycle of things.

Every thing that is born--

every one who is born-- 

eventually dies.

And yet, each death is also a tragic loss for those who are left behind.

Each death leaves a void that can never be filled.

After my father died, a wise old Jesuit said to me:

"When someone who is close to you dies...

it's like having an arm or leg amputated.

Initially, there's pain and there's grief. 

At times, it may feel like it's still there.

But, with time, the pain...

the grief...

the sense that it's still there... 

subsides.

You get on with your life.

You adapt.

But it's never the same".

 

I think he's right.

When someone we love dies, we feel pain.

We grieve but we do, eventually, go on with our lives.

We adapt but it's never the same.

Because, when someone passes away, part of our world passes away too.

And that happens both personally and corporately.

When people die, they take their experiences and memories with them.

There are no more survivors of the horrors of the First World War.

And it won't be long before all those who experienced the Great Depression...

the Second World War... 

or the Holocaust...

will have passed away too.

With each death, the world that we know changes.

And, the older we get, the more profound that change becomes...

as, one by one, those whom we know--

those whom we love--

leave us.

In the midst of all of that...

it's quite normal and natural to ponder what happens to us--

and to our loved ones-- 

after we die.

There's scarcely a religion throughout history, 

which hasn't grappled with that question and tried to offer answers.

From its earliest times, the Christian faith has grappled with that too.

There's been considerable speculation...

and many of us have inherited all sorts of traditions and myths.

It's not uncommon for people to give air to the thought that--

when they die--

they'll be reunited with their loved ones...

assuming that that level of consciousness...

and that level of continuity of existence... 

will remain.

The truth is, we don't know.

And, in our ponderings on what happens after death... 

many Christians turn to the Book of Revelation for answers.

Unfortunately, it was never intended to answer those sorts of questions.

That's not what it's about.

Rather, it was written as a word of hope and encouragement to people who were suffering--

people who were frightened and fearful, unsure of the future;

people who felt like the world was falling apart;

people who were struggling to cope.

It was never intended as some sort of future prophecy...

let alone some sort of cryptic description of life after death...

or the end of time.

It was certainly never intended to be taken literally.

Rather, it belongs to a particular genre or form of literature...

one that, you might say, perhaps... 

is the ancient world's equivalent of science fiction:

it's intentionally pictorial--

like an abstract or even surrealist painting--

full of fantastic creatures and other-worldly events...

dripping with myth and symbol, imagery and allegory...

yet trying to convey a significant and profound message.

 

So, what is the author of Revelation trying to say?

 

In seeking to address the fears and frustrations--

the doubts and despondency-- 

of his readers...

he's trying to say something profound about the nature of God.

He's trying to remind them that God is faithful--

despite all appearances to the contrary.

He wants to affirm that God is gracious and tender...

loving and compassionate...

even when our world seems to be falling apart... 

and all that we know is bitterness and tears.

And, indeed, the author does it so beautifully...

"God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more".

But, even more than that...

he proclaims that God is with us, always--

and always will be.

If-- 

in some small way-- 

we know and experience the loving presence of God now...

then nothing that we experience in death can change that.

That seems to be his point.

Stripped of all the myth and symbol... 

imagery and allegory...

the author isn't offering us a vision of what will happen to us after we die.

Nor is he offering some vision of the future.

Rather, he's making a theological statement about the nature of God.

He's reminding us of the God who loves us...

and the God into whose hands we commit our loved ones...

and, in the end, our own lives as well.

 

And yet, even more than that...

the author proclaims a God who promises to make all things new;

a God whose ultimate aim is not the continuation of things as they are...

or as they have been...

but, indeed, a new creation.

But, note:

the hope that the author offers isn't just for those of us who believe.

There's no sense or notion here of that heaven-hell dichotomy...

which is a product of the skewed thinking of the middle-ages.

Far from it! His vision here encompasses all of humanity.

No, even more than that, it encompasses all of creation.

The God whom he proclaims... 

is One who will not stop short of anything but a new heaven and a new earth--

a new cosmos...

a new created order.

And this new cosmos that he envisages is one in which God will dwell with mortals--

not just with some...

not with those who are good or who believe certain things...

but with all humankind.

That is the hope...

that is the promise...

that is the vision of God and God's future that the author holds out for us.

It's an affirmation of faith that--

although we don't know what the future holds--

we can trust in God.

 

Today, we celebrate the festival of All Saints--

a time when we remember and give thanks...

for those men and women of faith who have gone before us...

and who have pointed the way for us.

But, at the same time, we also celebrate the festival of All Souls.

Because-- 

as the author reminds us here-- 

all human beings are precious in God's sight.

And so we remember and we give thanks... 

for all those down the ages...

who-- 

through their love and compassion...

their loyalty and faithfulness...

their sacrifice and encouragement--

have helped us to glimpse and to grasp a little of this God.

We remember them...

we give thanks...

and we entrust them into God's most gracious love.

And, as we do, let us rejoice in the God who embraces all humankind...

and, into whose hands, we commit our loved ones...

our present...

and our future...

and that of our world.

 

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