Now that we are in the month of November our thoughts turn towards those that we have known, and sometimes loved, who have died. Our society is now less comfortable than ever with death. This is a natural consequence of the move away from organised religion and/or the decrease in faith. We are encouraged now to use language that softens the starkness of death. We speak of ‘his passing’, ‘she crossed’, ‘they have gone before us’, indeed recently I heard someone who had just died as now having their ‘final sleep’. This is very understandable and indeed some of this language has its own beauty, but if it feeds a denial in us regarding the finality of death it may not be healthy. I was very concerned to hear from a bereaved family that a couple of relatives had sought medication to get them through the ‘trauma’ of the upcoming funeral. Again I intend no judgement here but we need to gently face loss as a natural part of life. We need to help each other in such difficult days. At times we are only postponing the effects of grief. Sometimes I meet people who are investing far too much time in the dead, often to the neglect of the living. This is not to say that we should not pray for our beloved dead, of course we should. Similarly it is good to tend to our graves, to recall, to remember, to give thanks. However some times how we behave in the face of death does not appear to reflect a good faith understanding of what this means for us as Christians.

I love to remember the words of John Donne, ‘Death be not proud though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so’, or the courageous, faith-filled taunting of Paul, ‘Death where is your sting? Death where is your victory?’ The challenge is that these are more than nice words. What do we, as followers of Jesus, believe about death? Can we be precise about this? Do we accept that with the death of Jesus, no death would ever be the same again? The death of Jesus changes death forever. The death of Jesus takes the real sting out of death itself. The power of death is beaten by Jesus. There is no trick here. As part of our creed we state that ‘Jesus suffered death and was buried’. The nub of the question for those of us who form part of the believing community is, are we Good Friday people or Easter people? I suppose a clever answer might be that we are of course both. It is a pertinent question though. Do we find ourselves talking with conviction and vigour about the suffering and death of Jesus and then finish with questions about the after-life, or the catch all comment about the Risen Jesus: ah well sure it’s all a mystery! Of course it is a mystery, and Paul reminds us we now can only glimpse it ‘through a glass darkly.’ The promise ultimately is of the beatific vision which Aquinas glimpsed before his death, and though a giant intellect and master of language he struggled to express its sublime beauty. As we turn into November my thoughts and prayers turn towards my parents. Joe is gone over twenty years, Bridie just a few. I miss them both very much. My belief based on both the life,and the promises, of Jesus is that I will come into the presence of both of them again.

I believe I will know them but they shall be different, because they will be sinless, having shed the fragility and the limitations of the human condition. I will encounter them in the beauty in which God made them. Meanwhile I pray for their peace, and I try to bring them honour.

I share with you these little personal tributes to them.

I did not know then
Nor do I fully grasp now
That it was our Last Supper

As we broke bread, remembered,
Gave thanks and gave out,
Grumbling smiles, for all, each other,
You and I, my lovely Mum.

Slower now, I saw you hobble
Towards the stained glass
Of our door

Nothing slow or pained.
In the bright smile
Warm hug.

Seeing the kitchen table bare,
I moved to set it,

No, you laughed, we are in the
Dining room, this evening,
‘Sure it’s Easter Sunday, son’.

We dined like royalty
That Resurrection Evening,
Unhurried, together.

No I did not know then that
Soon, very soon, you would
Cease to hobble and begin
To dance… Did you?

You are gone a long time now,
Over twenty years.
My missing you has a new freshness
Especially around three on a Sunday,
Flashpoint of memory.
You and I, and perhaps the others,
On Expedition.
Muffled in duffle,
And you in suede coat and shoes,
Shirt and tie.
Up to your Mother’s,
House of Order,
No mess,
Warmth, not so obvious.
There though!


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