Ken's Pastoral Letter
My second month in ministry is ending as it began, with a funeral. Perhaps you may think it not inappropriate therefore if I reflect upon our connection with those whom we have ‘loved long since, and lost awhile’. This line of a well-known hymn you may recognise from ‘Lead Kindly Light’ – written in 1833 by John Henry Newman. As we approach All Saints Day and All Souls Day this coming weekend: All Saints celebrating all the Christian saints known and unknown, and traditionally being observed on the 1st of November, and All Souls, commemorating the souls of the faithful departed, and being observed on the 2nd November, our services on Sunday afford us an opportunity to remember with thanksgiving those heroes of the faith who have been, and are, our inspiration, and to remember with affection and thanksgiving those dear to us who are temporarily beyond our sight.
John Wesley, our founding father in Methodism enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1st 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” Perhaps we may conclude, wrongly I believe, that people in former times were just a bit morbid and that their apparent preoccupation with the afterlife was merely due to the shortness and the misery of their experience of this one. But surely we detect something warmer and more intimate in Wesley’s words? Something we may be overlooking in our day.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says: The day of death is better than the day of birth. (7.1b) He combines this thought, in a proverb, with that of ‘a good name being better than precious ointment’. Clearly there can be no intention in this text to point to an afterlife but rather to commend to the reader the idea that a life ended with a good name or reputation earned is to be desired over the loss of these things traded for the gain of mere material possessions. But nevertheless we may surely imagine that to leave a world of grief, sin and pain, however beautiful that world may be, for one in which sorrow and pain do not exist, and sin is not possible, cannot be anything but a liberating and joyous experience of healing, wholeness and peace – for those trusting in God. For those who have left until the last the need to present themselves before the God of eternity - before themselves falling into it – we can only say that God is merciful and surely never yet turned away a contrite soul.
The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon spent the earliest part of his life, up to age five, with his grandfather, a nonconformist minister. When the time came to return to his parents it was for him “the great sorrow of my little life.” He wrote in his autobiography ‘Grandfather seemed very sorry, too, and we had a cry together; he did not quite know what to say to me, but he said, “Now child, tonight, when the moon shines at Colchester, and you look at it, don’t forget that it is the same moon your grandfather will be looking at from Stambourne;” and for years, as a child, I used to love the moon because I thought that my grandfather’s eyes and my own somehow met there on the moon.’
I have heard it said by a grieving relative “I loved him to the moon and back!” Well of course it is no longer possible to imagine eyes meeting somehow on the moon once our loved ones have departed. But as they stand now in the presence of God, who shall wipe away every tear, may it not now be possible for theirs and our eyes to somehow meet in the face of Christ? At All Saints Day and All Souls Day we celebrate the good name and reputation of those faithful departed who have gone to their reward, and since we each in our separate elements remain in the presence of God we may rejoice that though beyond our sight our loved ones are not beyond His, nor we either – and somehow our eyes still meet there in the face of the Saviour. Are they more aware of us than we know? I hope you may, as Wesley did, find it ‘a comfortable day!’
Yours always in Christian love,