Hail the heaven-born Prince of peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings;
mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons (daughters and non-binary) of earth, born to give them second birth:
It will not be long before those of us who are daily attenders to prayer, or weekly communicants will join our voices with those of the people of this community who are once or twice a year Church attending Christians or who, in attending carol services fulfill some childhood memory of what God’s birth in Bethlehem inarticulately says to them. All are welcome and the joy to be with others, is ours… But we will sing, all of us:
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons (and daughters and non-binary) of earth, born to give them second birth:
Oh my! What a statement to casually sing if we cannot for a moment trust Christ to be the fulfillment of not only the promises of God, but of our human hope!
St Paul wrote many things for us to consider which we often interpret located within his context and time. But now and again he writes something which transcends his lifetime and speaks powerfully into our own.
Hope does not disappoint us! Two fears we might know: one from childhood and the other yet to be fully realised. The fear of being lost… and the future fear of being forgotten.
Yet everything within our religious narrative points to this night – to us and our loved ones. That they and even all who are not named this night cannot be lost, neither can they be forgotten.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, in the stories of God’s people when they find themselves in the wilderness: God is there with them. Go back further and when they face annihilation God is with them, he is with them as individuals and as community. Go back to the beginning and when they are trying to hide and be forgotten to God.. God is in the garden calling out to them… “where are you?”… as if he doesn’t know.
History records that no-one it seems can be lost to God. This isn’t the rosy story of our faith.. but the millennia based wisdom of others insight that there is nowhere and nothing that can be lost to God. Psalm139 reminds us:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in the grave, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Hope does not disappoint us! I am afraid that our fears rational and irrational cannot be realised. The fear of becoming lost the fear of being forgotten well, we see that addressed in both Testaments. Recall:
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding Jesus and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? …Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Hope does not disappoint us!
Whatever has brought you to this holy place of remembrance this evening, be reminded that the power revealed to be God’s in the old stories of our scriptures, is the same power shared and revealed in the work of Jesus, the one whom we worship and adore.
And we worship not because we fear being lost or forgotten to God. But because we see revealed a truth about God and God’s character which is beyond our grasp. Who we worship is awkward because what God is we can never be, we can never be that constant outpouring of knowing and love to each other, or even to those who we remember this night. But God is – even towards those who we have momentarily forgotten. Our reality is different to our hope… and our hope, our faith is that God does what we cannot. That he is revealed to be what we are not. God raises the dead, God holds all of creation in memory and in the present.
The names we remember tonight 99% you will know nothing about, they are just names. But they are all individually known to God as the child of God, as are you, as am I – the child of God.
And in this relationship, as children of the same heavenly father, we gather to remember this night those who God still knows, and we continue to offer our love to them. They rejoice upon a different shore, but take comfort that we are united with them in our worship through God’s Holy Spirit, through the presence of the same constant love of God revealed in Jesus which we celebrate at this Altar. The Love of God doesn’t change as our love changes, it doesn’t faulter. It simply is. And in it – we and all of the faithful departed live knowing that – Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Let that Spirit continue to unite us in Christ with the living and the departed. Amen