28 November 2010

All Souls Sunday

Sermon for 31 October 2010

All Souls /All Saints

Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1-9

John 6: 37-40

By Sharyn Hall

Recently I noticed a sign, which read, ‘Take Comfort in Rituals’. The picture on the sign was a woman having a relaxing coffee break. I do not drink coffee, but I know that for many people coffee is a ritual. In our church office, tea breaks are the ritual. Any customary or habitual behaviour can be a ritual, and we can find comfort in our busy lives by pausing for refreshment, especially with family and friends. We take comfort in the rituals that life goes on with familiar events even when the circumstances of our own lives change.

The word, ‘comfort’, has a limited meaning in our society. Generally it is understood as simply a good feeling. Familiar habits like coffee breaks, and customary habits like tending our gardens, can give us good feelings because of the familiarity and the sense of order in our lives. The older and more spiritual meaning of the word, ‘comfort’, is strength. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter in the scriptures because the Spirit gives us strength to follow God’s will in our lives.

Sometimes a ritual is a comfort for us when we are faced with hardship, tragedy or sorrow. In those times, when we don’t know which way to turn, we can turn to God for strength and guidance. Rituals have developed in the Christian faith from the time of Jesus, through centuries to the present day. The rituals of daily prayer, Sunday worship, baptism, marriage and burial accompany us through the events of our lives.

The church calendar gives order to our years beginning with Christmas to Easter, Harvest to All Saints and All Souls, when we commemorate those who have died. With each event in the Christian year, there are familiar rituals, which remind us that God our Creator is never far away. Here at St. Luke’s we have the ritual of remembering those who have died since last All Souls Day. We invite their families to be with us as we remember their loved ones, and we pray that they will find some comfort in the rituals of our worship.

In our scripture passage from the ancient text, the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer describes the common view of death as a disaster. This was true for people thousands of years ago and it is true for us in the 21st century. Medical science fights off death in amazing ways, and when death comes, it is counted as defeat. As the scripture says, the separation of death feels like destruction of our loved ones, and yet in the midst of sorrow, there is hope for immortality, for peace in the hand of God.

This passage of scripture is often read at funerals because it acknowledges the feelings of despair and disaster, which can be overwhelming when confronted with the death of a loved one, but the passage also offers hope of an eternal life of peace for those who have departed from us. Reading scripture and offering prayers are rituals, which can give us comfort.

For Christians, the most important ritual of our faith is the sacrament of the eucharist, the communion, which is Christ’s offering of hope to all who wish to receive him into their lives. The ritual of receiving the sacrament gives us hope of walking with Christ day by day in our earthly lives, and the hope of walking with Christ in the life he promises after death.

Jesus said, “anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.” There is great comfort in the words of Jesus to be with us in this life and beyond death. For those of us who have lost loved ones, recently or many years ago, we take comfort in the promise of Jesus that our loved ones have a new life without pain or suffering in the care of a loving God.

Today, on this day commemorating All Saints and All Souls, the communion sacrament is a prayer for the peace of those who have died, to remember and to give thanks for their lives with us. Today, the communion also is a prayer for comfort for those who are bereaved. God’s loving care is with us in this life to give us courage and strength through our sorrows. When our hearts are full of anxiety, despair or sadness, it can be difficult to come to worship in the church. Those emotions come close to the surface and we are embarrassed by tears, but the rituals of prayer, scripture, music and communion can give us strength to meet the days ahead. Prayer, whether formal and conventional, or simply a plea for help, is the beginning of hope because God’s comfort is generously given.

Take Comfort in Rituals.

Accept the small pleasures of kind words, simple tasks and friendly helping hands, and for spiritual strength, take time for prayer. There is no greater comfort than faith in God’s desire to be with us always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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