With the arrival of Spring the birds are nesting, the weather is getting warmer and the blossoms are out. However, for most of us the signs of the lockdown ending is what really gives us most joy and greater freedom. At last we can have people in our homes, we can travel further, we can return to a greater sense of normality. It’s like a dark cloud has been lifted off us allowing the sun to shine through.
The prophet Isaiah used a similar image when he wrote in a very dark time of Israel’s history. He spoke of God removing a ‘shroud’ that had been cast over his people. A ‘shroud’ is what a body is ‘dressed’ in before burial, so Isaiah’s word is all about God’s promise of life and hope and freedom. I’ll say more about this in my sermon on Sunday as we celebrate All Souls Day.
We hear a lot about freedom these days, and almost always it is freedom from external constraint, and is often accompanied by voices claiming their rights. At times those voices sound strident and demanding and have also led to violence. What we hear far less of is a deeply Christian understanding of freedom as freedom for the other. This freedom for the other adds a social corrective to talk about individual rights and urges us to see that freedom also requires that we act responsibly in a way that fosters community rather than undermining community. The Christian faith is after all a communal faith. In baptism we are bound together into the Body of Christ where we become the ‘household or people’ of God, and where we are given gifts and graces designed to build one another up.
Last week I mentioned Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which was prompted by a question asking for clarification about who our neighbour is. In the parable Jesus turns the question around. He wants us to re-orient our lives so that we always act in a neighbourly way toward those around us, rather than defining who is or isn’t my neighbour. Behind all this is Jesus’ command to love one another.
It has been encouraging during the lockdown to hear of neighbours caring for each other, of people sending care packages to their family and friends. All this has involved extra work and creativity for us, learning to care from a distance when what our hearts tell us is that we want real contact. And that’s just what we long for when we lose those we love in death.
This Sunday we mark All Souls’ Day, remembering and giving thanks for those who we have known and loved who have died in the past year. Funerals during lockdown have been limited mostly to a small gathering of family members, which has meant that we have not had the usual support of the wider community and friends in a time of deep personal loss. On All Souls’ Day we have the opportunity to gather (still on-line) to surround those carrying that loss, pray with them and grieve with them.
Living on the Island of Iona in Scotland was an immense privilege for me and taught me a lot about the communion of Saints. The Island has been described as tissue paper thin between heaven and earth; one of the thin places on this earth that alert us to a deeper and richer reality just beyond our reach and yet which touches our lives. We get glimpses of the mystery of God who loves us and from whom nothing can separate us at different times throughout our lives and often during moments of crisis. Whenever we encounter God’s mystery some kind of healing takes place in us, reconnecting us with life.