Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Monday 2 November 2020
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 5:5-11; Matthew 11:25-30
Today’s All Souls day commemoration comes near the end of what has been an exhausting year, and one which has highlighted the truth of this day: that one day, we all will die.
There is a Christian maxim: “Memento mori” – remember that you will die. We hear echoes of this on Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return – with the implication that we should live our lives to the full, whilst living as those who know we one day will meet our maker.
This maxim, though made more present by the events of the past eight months, is however no more true in two thousand and twenty than it ever has been. We are mortal; one day, we will die.
In the last century, as health in our country and others has improved and life expectancy has increased, there have been all sorts of attempts to avoid this fundamental truth: from the scientists of immortality, looking for the key to stop our body ageing, to the philosophers who try to explain away the end of life.
Two poems we often hear at funerals highlight this: one which tells us that “Death is nothing at all,” that it is just someone slipping into the next room; and the other, which tells us, “Do not stand at my grave and weep ; I am not there. I do not sleep… I am not there. I did not die.”
These and the many others like them are attempts – understandable attempts, to be sure – to take the power out of something that causes us so much grief.
I do not doubt the good intentions behind them – but they miss the point: that death is real, even if we turn our face away from it; and so these poems give cold comfort; firstly, because they tell us that what we have experienced simply is not real; and secondly, because they replace the simple truth of the gospel with a worldly-wise philosophy.
This is why Jesus rejoiced that the mysteries of the kingdom had been hidden from the wise and revealed to mere children: because the Christian gospel has a very simple, clear message which the worldly-wise often cannot grasp, and it is this:
Ever since our first ancestors ate from the tree from which it was forbidden to eat, this world and all that inhabits it has been subject to death; but God, in his wonderful love and compassion, embraced death and so put an end to it.
His sacrifice on the cross, his sacrifice which we re-present at the altar each time we celebrate the Mass, defeated death so that he might be God not of the dead but of the living. So those who have died have not died for ever.
Today, at this mass, and every day, we pray for those “who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again”. Our life is a pilgrimage to God’s holy city, where “we shall become like him.” To enter that city we must be perfect and free from sin – and none of us, even the most righteous, ends our life in that way. Our pilgrimage to the Holy City continues in purgatory, where, aided by the prayers of those on earth, we continue to “work out our salvation” until by God’s grace we achieve the perfection to which he calls us. Today, when we pray for those who have died, we are assisting them in that pilgrimage, we are speeding them along the road to the heavenly Jerusalem, where one day we will see our God as he is.
My brothers and sisters: let us pray for the repose of all who have died; and let us pray also for the grace to accept the simple truth of God’s saving work on the cross, by which he defeated death.