Rector's Letter for November
26th October 2016
Time is a fraud, as everybody knows. The calendar tells me that it was eighteen years ago on Sunday that we moved into the Rectory (the thing that sold the move to our John was that there were two Macdonalds, both within easy walking distance…). Today is our older grand-daughter’s fifth birthday. Both terms of years seem ridiculous, yet I know that the figures are right. I sometimes find myself saying these days ‘Oh it must be fifty years since I read that!’, yet the idea that any part of my experience should go back half a century seems preposterous. C.S. Lewis said that it would only be strange that human beings are so easily caught on the hop by the passage of time, if they hadn’t actually been created to live in eternity. In other words, time feels like a fraud because it is a fraud. It claims an authority over us that it doesn’t have. We resent its claims (‘I don’t feel any different’ people will say – sometimes quite crossly – when you congratulate them on being eighty). We were not made to be limited by months and years.
Next Sunday will be the nearest to All Saints’, and the annual All Souls’ Commemoration will take place on that evening. As always, there is a long list of names for us to remember during the Service, some who have died recently, and others who, though they passed to their reward many years ago, are still precious to those who love them. There are many others, of course, in our Book of Remembrance, say, or on War Memorials, who now have nobody left who does remember. As the Book Ecclesiasticus reminds us: ‘some there be who have no memorial; who are perished as though they had never been’. I always listen out for ‘Ethelred Openshaw’ who comes up once a year in our parish list; it is not a name that you would easily forget, yet I know of no relations left to remember him today.
It is not just the fact that my retirement is looming that makes me dwell on such things. You cannot go through an English November without being confronted by the fact of mortality: All Souls’ Day, Remembrance Sunday, and the turning and falling of the leaves, to look no further. ‘We have here no continuing city’, says the Letter to the Hebrews, just a short leasehold tenure on all this beauty and wonder. Yet as I look back over the past eighteen years, my mind is full of all of those eternal souls whom it has been my vocation to minister to, and whose bodies I have laid to rest at their funerals. It is only too obvious that we have no continuing city here, but increasingly I become sure of our hope in God hereafter. It has taken untold millennia for this corner of our solar system to sustain the life of beings capable of thinking and loving and choosing and creating. I try to love God, but I do certainly find it easy to love people, and the more quirky and individual and unpredictable the people are, the better I like it. Perhaps that is why I have never thought of moving from Bury. But what I remain certain of is that if I, in my wishy-washy way, can manage to love and appreciate these human fellow-creatures, what a hope there must be for them in the God who willed them to be, and who alone therefore fully understands how wonderful they are! In the words of the ancient Russian Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed:
Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.
But weeping o’er the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, because Christ is risen. Every time we gather together to share the Holy Communion that thought should be uppermost in our minds. What is it but sharing a meal with him on the other side of his death? Death is dead, and all Heaven waits to welcome us.