All Souls’ Day
I once lived in a house where all the windows were taken out and replaced with new ones. It was a good move. The house—a rather draughty 1920s vicarage—became much warmer, and the windows more secure. What though, might replacement windows have to do with All Souls’ Day? Bear with me, because there are, I believe, clear parallels between replacing windows in a house and what happens to human beings when we die.
The first is that my old windows needed to be replaced. They were worn out. They’d reached the end of their useful life. Some of the frames were rotten, others didn't open or shut properly. In other words, they weren't working to their full potential - not working quite as intended.
This happens to us, as human beings. Many of us aren’t always able to live to our full potential. It might be that life is cut cruelly short, or that illness takes a hold on us. But I suspect that none of us ever really fulfils our potential 100%. We always fall short of the mark somewhere and death is inevitable at some point or other. The great joy of Christian faith is that it's a realistic faith; God understands our predicament and promises to do something about it. God invites us, when this life is past, to share in a new life, a life where we are fully the people God made us to be—the life of heaven. The promise to Christians, as to worn out windows, is that we can be 'made new'.
The second similarity is this. Because the house I was living in was in a conservation area, there were very clear guidelines set down by the planners as to the sort of windows that could be fitted. They had to match the old ones exactly in size and style. And so, the firm that fitted them had to make them all to order. None of our original windows was of a standard size—they were quite unique. So there was no ‘off the peg solution’ but they had to be replaced with other windows which were exactly made to measure.
The same can be said of us, too. Each of us is unique. What makes me 'me' is different from what makes you 'you,' and so for us all. None of us is exactly the same. Similar to look at maybe, even similar in character, but never identical in body, mind and spirit. Those of us who have lost loved ones during recent years will know all about that uniqueness - that nothing or no one can ever completely fill the gap their death has left.
But the Christian hope is of 'all things being made new'. This life is certainly not all that there is, and death is a gateway to a new life—life on a totally different plane. And what’s clear about the Christian view of the life to come is that our uniqueness is preserved. When we pass through death, we don't become vague disembodied spirits, but we remain ourselves. We remain unique - but more than that, we become even more fully ourselves.
Let me explain what I mean; and I need to reference a third parallel with the windows. My windows weren’t replaced exactly like for like. Same size, same design, same look, but a different material: wooden frames were replaced with UPVC frames (something the planners were happy to allow!).
To pass through death, too, isn’t just replacing like for like. Our minds and bodies on earth suffer illness and injury. Our spirits, too, can be troubled as we come to terms with what can be a hard and at times tragic world. But the life of heaven isn’t like that. The Book of Revelation records St John the Divine’s vision of a 'new heaven and a new earth' in which there is no more sorrow nor crying, nor pain, nor death. 'For these former things' he writes 'will have passed away.'
Like the replacement of perishable wood with (so they tell us) imperishable UPVC, when we enter upon the life of heaven, we are given a life that is imperishable. The early Christian writers struggled to put this into words. St John the Divine wrote of a life in which all is well (no crying, no pain, no death). St Paul talked about us being given a new 'resurrection body', while St Peter explained life beyond the grave as an 'inheritance' which is 'imperishable'. They are all basically getting at the same thing: that what suffers, fades away, and comes to an end here on earth, remains for ever in heaven.
At All Souls’ tide we are encouraged to think about the bigger picture—of the God who is always working to 'make all things new'—on both sides of the divide of death. Today, we give thanks for those whom we have loved—and still love—those who have been close to us in our own lives, and are still close to us in our hearts, and we still feel sorrow and pain as we remember their death. (That is only natural because death and separation hurt.) But the Christian hope is of a life beyond death: a life where our uniqueness is preserved, but we are made new as we become as God wants us to be. And that life is for ever.
St John put it very well in the third chapter of his Gospel:
'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.'
Everlasting life begins now - we don’t have to wait until death to begin the journey. It's a journey we make with others – with all those who have committed themselves to Jesus Christ - and we make the journey in the company of Jesus himself, as, in the words of the Christmas hymn:
'…..he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.'
May the souls of the departed whom we remember today, rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.