Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sermon at the Mass of Requiem, All Souls' Day 2013

Wisdom 3:1-9
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 6:37-40

“This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”

All that he has given me. We catch a glimpse of what that “all” means in this Mass of “All” Souls. A Mass offered for all the faithful departed, in which we will read the names of those we particularly wish to remember. There are lots of names to be read, and it will take a while, as it should, because it is a sign that we care, that the bonds of love are not broken by death.

And in churches all over the world other Christians will be doing the same, today and in this season. Millions upon millions of names will be read, so many lives remembered with love and thanksgiving and prayer. And that is only this year. Countless souls have gone before us down the ages, from every tribe and language and people and nation. This Mass of All Souls commemorates a great company indeed.

But the “all” that Jesus talks about is not just the vastness of the number being redeemed. It speaks also of his embrace, his redemption, of all that it is to be human. He came down from heaven to share all that that means, to take it all to himself. His incarnation is his giving of himself, the Divine fulness emptying itself into the condition of our transitory, precarious, human life. Even to death. Even to that last emptiness, the uttermost limit to which being can be reduced. And all for love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son”, says St John.

All of which means that there is no aspect of human life, no place, no condition, not even death, where God is not present to redeem. Jesus has known everything that it is to be human, so nothing and no-one is beyond his reach. 

The redeeming work of Jesus means that God is present in the real, the actual, to redeem and to save. In human lives as they really are. With all their love and striving and giving, and all their weakness and sickness and failure and sin. “Don’t speak ill of the dead”, people say. But what I suspect they sometimes mean is “Don’t speak the truth of the dead”. Well, we don’t need to speak it, necessarily. Love passes silently over what does not need to be said. But we can own it. The hope of redemption means that we don’t have to pretend. We can own that those who have died struggled as we do and often failed as we do. But we can own that truth in love, without blame, because God owns the truth in love, without blame. The truth that we are all sinners together whom Jesus has come to meet and redeem. 

And we do not need to fear the truth about ourselves or about those who have died. Jesus knows it all very well - that was why he came to redeem us. And in heaven even our sins will be glorious. Every sin pardoned, every sinner who slips into paradise, is yet more glory and praise for Jesus the Redeemer. And the greater the sinner who is saved, the greater the joy in heaven.

And the hope of redemption frees us too from that most pointless of regrets, for what might have been. Jesus came down from heaven to this actual world, and not some other one that doesn’t exist. The Redeemer comes to us right where we really are, to redeem the actual mess of our lives, all that we are and have been. 

And so we pray for the living and the dead, for all are in truth alive to God, holding all before God in the place where we find ourselves: caught up in the redeeming work of Christ. Most especially we pray with and in Christ in the Eucharist, which is his self-emptying even to death that all might be saved from death and raised with him.

It is true that we may not assert as an article of faith that all will certainly be saved. Love can only be given and received in freedom, and will not impose itself.

Nevertheless the Scriptures do not tell us of a select few standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, but of a great multitude, which no-one could number. And Jesus did not say he would raise up “some” or “most” of what the Father has given him. He said “all”. When the harvest of the Son of Man is finally gathered into his kingdom, it surely will be great indeed.

Jesus said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away”. 

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