SERMON: “Unseen yet Always Present”

A Sermon Preached by Graham Low at The Service for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on 5 November

Some of us, myself included, have met death quite a lot.

We feel in a way as if we know death.

We feel we know something of the look and sound of death.

We have met death when it seemed to be the most appropriate and final movement of a full and complete life.

But we have also met death when it was the most untimely and intrusive visitor to a life long before it reached any kind of maturity.

We have met in noisy hospital wards, and in casualty departments.

And we have met in the quiet comfort of people’s homes.

We have met death in violence on roads, and in foreign lands.

There is no end to the inventiveness of death. From the privately welcomed release from pain and long sickness – to the interruption of an early breath, half-taken.

Sometimes we have experienced death immediately – warm. Sometimes it is gentle – and over.

But I cannot say, as some do, that “death is nothing at all”. It is always deeply profound. It is always real. It is always extraordinary. And it always hurts.

It hurts and asks us deep questions inside. It strikes at the heart of faith, at the heart of our security. And death often comes armed with an accessory – guilt – haunting, undeserved.

We know that death always leaves a scar – as the scars on the hand of Christ. And death leaves an imprint more or less deep on those who remain.

But we may always remember that a scar is often tougher than what was there before. And we may remind ourselves that scars never entirely disappear.

We may sometimes find ourselves cautiously saying to a person diagnosed with an untreatable cancer that life has not ended, but takes on a new meaning. So it is with death.

Death is the changing of a relationship. The physical has gone. It can never be the same.

After that first kiss you know that you can never go back. We don’t lose our relationship through death – but we do change it in a permanent way. Recently, a close friend of mine spoke to me about a year after his wife’s death, and said that although she was unseen she was always present. That may well be so for many of us here tonight.

Something of our innocence has gone. Our eyes have been opened; we have tasted of the tree of knowledge.

Now we begin to understand our need. Now we may begin to see more than ever before something deeper about the meaning and purpose of our life and our faith.

Then, somewhere in our fears and our tears, we may slowly begin to glimpse a new and probably unfamiliar presence, a presence that starts to tell us that God is here with us in spirit. God is with us now. And the veil may gradually lift.

For death brings us face to face with the very deepest aspects of loss and of life.

And then, may we see with gratitude and with clarity, the great gift of life from God. Our readings and hymns tonight remind us that this immense gift is offered by God to everyone whom we commemorate tonight. And it is offered by God to you, and to me, and to everyone here tonight. It is the gift of life and love which comes to us in the name and the power of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.