Service of Remembrance Homily
The Reverend Elizabeth R. Costello
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Amen.
Today we celebrate the Service of Remembrance or a Holy Eucharist for the dead. Within the Anglican tradition, we hold this service for several reasons.
One reason for this service is to acknowledge the pain of death, and to acknowledge that grief is real. Grief, that can feel like waves that knock us to our knees, reminding us of our humanity. For those who have ever lost someone, we know that “our lives have changed,” as the Eucharistic proper preface for Burial Office puts it. We become disoriented by our loved one’s death, and for the rest of our lives we will grieve that loss. Our grief will well up at times when we expect it, and when we least expect it. Perhaps it is during the holidays, or from the smell of freshly baking bread, that reminds us of the bread that our mother used to bake.
This service offers the bereaved, us, an opportunity to grieve, to mourn, and to acknowledge that this grief is real. Grief that Jesus himself experienced at the loss of his friend, Lazarus.
If you recall when Lazarus died, Jesus cried. He cried along with Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters. This service reminds us that when we grieve, Jesus is with us. Jesus meets us in our grief and in our grief, Jesus reminds us of the promise of our faith. A promise that, if I were to finish the proper preface of that Eucharistic prayer, “life has changed, not ended.” Life has not ended for us, because we can rest assure in the promises of Jesus Christ our Savior.
With sighs too deep for words, the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, reminds us of the promises of our faith. This is another reason we celebrate this service of Remembrance, to be reminded of the promise, that, we too, will one-day die, and we too, shall live forever with God and all creation. We too, will join our loved ones who have died, and will sing along with them at God’s heavenly throne, “holy, holy, holy!”
In today’s gospel, Jesus comforts his disciples. Jesus knows he is about to die, so he comforts the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe in me.” Jesus explains to the disciples that he is going away to prepare a place for them. The whole reason for Jesus’ coming, and going away, and coming back for the disciples, otherwise put, his life, death, and resurrection; was so that they, and all of creation could be with God in time and eternity. Jesus comforts the disciples by telling them, as he tells us today, that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
Through the reconciling work of Christ, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39). We celebrate this service to remind us of this great promise, this costly promise of our faith made possible through Jesus.
The God, who put into motion the cosmos, who set the planets into orbit… the God who hung the stars in the sky; is the same God who knew our loved one before they were in their mother’s womb; is the God who is with them now.
The God, who gave our loved ones their first breaths, who was with them in their last breaths; is the God who is with them now.
The God, who was with our loved one in the joys and wonders, the vulnerability and tenderness, the pain and suffering of this transitory life; was with them through the valley of the shadow of death and into eternity.
Eternity, that place, as John Donne famously described, “where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings but one equal eternity.” Eternity, a dwelling place of God’s glory. A place where our loved ones have gone, a place where we will join them one day.
Eternity, that place where our loved ones and all of creation receive their final healing of mind, body and soul. Eternity, that place where the departed join in the unending song of praise to God, face-to-face. A song of praise that we join in today, and every time we sing the Sanctus, where we sing with the dead “holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.” That liminal space where heaven and earth meet, each time we celebrate the Eucharistic feast.
In this Service of Remembrance, I invite you to think about, “those whom you love and see no longer.” Remember them as you listen to the pieces from Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. Pray for them. Pray that they would give you wisdom. As you remember them, as you grieve their loss, remember that Jesus is with them, and that same Jesus is here with you.
As our reading, “What is dying?” attributed to The Rev. Luther Beecher, reminded us:
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
May the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.