Their hope is full of immortality
For over a thousand years All Souls’ Day has been set aside for the Church to care about the souls of the ‘departed’. From the Chapel of Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
For over a thousand years, All Souls’ Day has been set aside for the Church to care about the souls of those who have ‘departed’. It was a day kept solemn for prayers and intercessions on behalf of those souls who ‘are in the hand of God, [where] no torment will ever touch them’. The biblical Wisdom literature does not see death as an unremitting disaster, but is confident that those who have died are ‘at peace’ with God and they ‘abide with him in love'. More unexpectedly perhaps ‘their hope is full of immortality’. Preacher the Revd Dr Steve Nolan, Chaplain, Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey and Visiting Research Fellow at University of Winchester, casts further light both on this biblical Wisdom literature and on ancient and modern understandings of death. Recorded at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich, Chaplain: The Revd Patricia Mann; Director of Music: Ralph Allwood; Organist: Joseph Wicks. Readings: Wisdom 3: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Music: Jerusalem the Golden (Ewing); In Paradisum (Faure); Crossing the Bar (Parry); The Lord’s my shepherd (Crimond); Holy is the true light (Harris); Ye holy angels bright (Darwall’s 148th); The Lord bless you and keep you (Rutter); Producer: Ben Collingwood
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Jerusalem the Golden (Ewing)1 Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blest,Beneath thy contemplationSink heart and voice opprest.I know not, O I know not,What social joys are there,What radiancy of glory,What light beyond compare.
2 They stand, those halls of Sion, Conjubilant with song,And bright with many an angel, And all the martyr throng;The Prince is ever in them,The daylight is serene,The pastures of the blessèd Are decked in glorious sheen.
3 There is the throne of David, And there, from care released,The song of them that triumph, The shout of them that feast;And they who, with their Leader,Have conquered in the fight,For ever and for ever Are clad in robes of white.
4 O sweet and blessèd country, Shall I ever see thy face?O sweet and blessed country, Shall I ever win thy grace?Exult, O dust and ashes!The Lord shall be thy part:His only, his for ever,Thou shalt be, and thou art!
PAT: Good morning, and welcome to the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul at the Old Royal Naval College on the banks of the river Thames in Greenwich. The wonderful eighteenth century buildings that we occupy were built to the design of Sir Christopher Wren as the Royal Hospital for Seamen – a place of refuge for those who had served their country in the Navy; a place where they could live out their old age in some comfort and peace.
In this place we remember all who have lived and worked here across the centuries and give thanks for the heritage handed down to us. The retired sailors who attended daily chapel services in the Hospital knew that the remembrance of those who had died at sea and those who died in the safe haven of this place was an important part of their everyday lives. Telling the stories of their Admirals and their shipmates kept alive their pride in their naval service and their hope that a greater glory awaited them when they too came to die.
This Sunday we keep the feast of All Souls as we remember before God with grateful hearts all those we love but see no more; those who have nurtured us or inspired us.
God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.
As we acknowledge our human frailty, we call to mind our sins of word, deed and omission, and confess them before God our Father.
You raise the dead to life in the Spirit:Lord have mercy.Lord have mercy
You bring pardon and peace to the broken heart:Christ have mercyChrist have mercy
You make one by your Spirit the torn and divided:Lord have mercy.Lord have mercy
May almighty God have mercy on you,Forgive you your sins,And bring you to everlasting life.Amen
CHOIR/ORGAN: ANTHEM: In Paradisum (Faure)
PAT:May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the Holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.
Let us pray:Everlasting God, our maker and redeemer,Grant us, with all the faithful departed,The sure benefits of your Son’s saving passionAnd glorious resurrection, that in the last day, when you gather up all things in Christ,We may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises;Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,Who is alive and reigns with you, In the unity of the Holy Spirit,One God, now and forever.Amen
PAT:Our first bible reading is from the book of Wisdom. Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge, the fulfilment of wisdom is our knowledge of the utter glory and love of God, something those who love God (described by the writer of the book as the righteous) will be granted at their death as they come into the peace that passes all understanding that is our God. This sure and certain hope that death is not the end of life but a moment of transition, a gateway to a closer and fuller relationship with God is an important revelation of God’s love for us; the realisation that death is a part of life gives us the wisdom to live life more fully, secure in knowing that we, and all whom we love, are loved more fully and perfectly than we can ever imagine.
READER 1: Wisdom 3: 1-9The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. 2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, 3 and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. 4 For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. 5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; 6 like gold in the furnace he tried them,and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. 7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. 8 They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. 9 Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.
PAT:Tennyson’s poem ‘Crossing the bar’ portrays the life voyage we each must make. A sand bar can cut the beach off from the open sea, so to go out to sea the bar must be crossed. Sailors know the discipline needed to navigate the bar by reading the tides and the weather, avoiding becoming stranded on the bar. So we, to go on into the life that awaits us after death must cross over the barrier that separates this life from the next, being guided by Jesus, the pilot that brings us safely to where our final place with God may be found.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,Too full for sound and foam,When that which drew from out the boundless deepTurns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,And after that the dark!And may there be no sadness of farewell,When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and PlaceThe flood may bear me far,I hope to see my Pilot face to faceWhen I have crossed the bar.
PAT:Our next hymn is the Lord’s my Shepherd, a setting of Psalm 23 that describes how gently and tenderly God cares for us and is with us through the ups and downs of life and on through eternity. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who carries us and leads us through this life, the one who comes to take us home to dwell with God for evermore.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: The Lord’s my shepherd (Crimond)1 The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want;He makes me down to lieIn pastures green; he leadeth meThe quiet waters by.
2 My soul he doth restore again,And me to walk doth makeWithin the paths of righteousness,E'en for his own name's sake.
3 Yea, though I walk through death's dark vale,Yet will I fear no ill:For thou art with me, and thy rodAnd staff me comfort still. 4 My table thou hast furnishèdIn presence of my foes;My head thou dost with oil anoint,And my cup overflows.
5 Goodness and mercy all my lifeShall surely follow me;And in God's house for evermoreMy dwelling-place shall be.
PAT:Our second bible reading is from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In this passage St Paul reminds the early church of the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper. This moment is at the heart of our faith, for God’s constant and everlasting love is made real to each of us each time we eat the bread and drink the wine that Jesus said were his body and his blood. Jesus knows that in his death on the cross his body will be broken and his blood shed, in his pain he gives himself for us in the ultimate act of love that one can offer for another, to give their life. It’s shocking and humbling that this very public death should open the way to each of us for everlasting life, for in his death, we at our death, can go to be with God for ever.
READER 2: 1 Corinthians 11:23-2623 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
PAT:In a moment we’ll hear from our preacher, the Revd Dr Steve Nolan, who is chaplain at the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher. But before that, the choir sings Holy is the true light, the light of God. Jesus is the light of God, the light of the world that shows us the way to God and our everlasting and eternal home.
CHOIR: ANTHEM: Holy is the true light (Harris)
STEVE: For over a thousand years, All Souls’ Day has been a day set aside for the Church to care about the souls of those who have ‘departed’. It was a day kept solemn for prayers and intersessions on behalf of those souls who were being purified before their onward journey to heaven.
These are ‘the souls of the righteous’ that we heard about in our first reading. This reading speaks to our need to know whether the person we loved and who has died is safe, and it tells us they ‘are in the hand of God, [where] no torment will ever touch them’.
This ancient reading is from a tradition of writing known as the Wisdom writings. These are writings that are concerned with the question of how we might live well and they give advice about everyday life and how to live it.
The writer observes that people have different ways of thinking about death; not everyone regards death in the same way. He says that to some people death is an unremitting disaster: the dead are dead and there’s an end to it.(v2)
But that’s not how this writer sees it. This writer is confident that those who have died are ‘at peace’ with God and they ‘abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones’ and God is watching over them.
But then the writer says something that seems perhaps a little unexpected and we might think that it’s somewhat out of place. He tells us that ‘their hope is full of immortality’.
What does that mean, to have a hope that is ‘full of immortality’?
One translator has interpreted it as meaning that the souls of the righteous have ‘a sure hope of immortality’, and that may very well have been what the writer had in mind.
But to me, this unexpected phrase speaks powerfully to the reason why All Souls’ Day, and the act of remembering, is so important when it comes to the ways we continue to love and care about and feel attached to those who have died.
Nothing prepares us for the death of one we love, one who has been significant in our life. Even when that person has been seriously ill and we have known that soon they would die; when that moment comes it can be hard to accept the reality of what has happened.
How much more so when that person died suddenly, without warning and without time to prepare?
Or if that person was a baby that we’d had no time to get to know?
It’s common to feel that we have been robbed.
No amount of time is ever sufficient time. Whether they lived a long and full life or their life was cut short, we are greedy for more time: more time to hear their voice, to hold their hand; to stroke their hair; more time simply to be together.
Nothing prepared us for their leaving and so we want to know that, wherever they are – if they are anywhere – that somehow they are safe. Having cared about them in our life together, we feel so helpless. Yet our urge to care remains strong.
So All Souls’ Day sets aside time for us to remember.
Not that we need to be reminded to remember – when grief is raw we can do little else and when our grief subsides, as it will, we cherish and nurture those memories.
But All Souls’ Day sets that act of remembrance within the community of the Church and surrounds it with prayer. And in this setting, we make our individual act of remembrance within a group of others who are also remembering, and somehow this strengthens our memories.
Why does it matter that we strengthen our memories?
I think a good answer to that question is found in a line from the Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell. Almost two hundred years ago, he wrote: ‘To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.’
Memories are fragile things. We like to think that our memories of the person who has died will be strong and clear; but the truth is that over time they become foggy. We struggle to remember the details and then we’re left only with impressions.
And when a person is forgotten then they really have died.
The way we keep memories fresh and alive is by returning to them regularly and preferably with others who share the same memories of that person.
I know a man who every month visited his late wife’s grave. He took her flowers and sat with her for a while before coming to attend the monthly remembrance service at our Hospice.
I know of a family who each year meets for lunch at a gastropub near the Hospice before coming to attend our annual Light up a Life service of remembrance. They share stories about the person who died and then come along to the service to light a candle in her memory.
And I know a family who lost a small child during labour. Every year, on the child’s birthday, they take flowers and gather around the tiny grave. They speak few words but each takes time to remember the child that they had prepared nine months for and to love the memory of the child they had never known.
Memories are fragile things and we need to do what we can to keep them alive. All Soul’s Day is a day provided by the Church to remind us to remember.
And I think this is what the Wisdom writer meant when he wrote that ‘the souls of the righteous’ have a ‘hope … full of immortality’.
He knew that these souls had been loved in life and that they would be remembered in their death and that, in being remembered, in having people who would nurture and cherish their memory, they would not be forgotten and in that way they would continue to live in the love of the living.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Ye holy angels bright (Darwall’s 148th)1 Ye holy angels bright,Who wait at God's right hand,Or through the realms of lightFly at your Lord's command,Assist our song,For else the themeToo high doth seemFor mortal tongue.
2 Ye blessèd souls at rest,Who ran this earthly race,And now, from sin released,Behold the Saviour's face,God's praises sound,As in his sightWith sweet delightYe do abound. 3 Ye saints, who toil below,Adore your heavenly King,And onward as ye goSome joyful anthem sing;Take what he givesAnd praise him still,Through good or ill,Who ever lives!
4 My soul, bear thou thy part,Triumph in God above:And with a well-tuned heartSing thou the songs of love!Let all thy daysTill life shall end,Whate'er he send,Be filled with praise.
READER 3: Let us prayJesus, bread from heaven,You satisfy the hungry with good things:Grant us a share with all the faithful departedIn the banquet of your kingdom.
Hear us, risen Lord,Our resurrection and our life.
READER 4: Jesus, the light of the world,You gave the man born blind the gift of sight:Open the eye of faithAnd bring us from darknessTo your eternal light and glory.
Hear us, risen Lord,Our resurrection and our life.
READER 3: Jesus, Son of the living God,You summoned your friend Lazarus from death to life:Raise us at the last to full and eternal life with you.
Hear us, risen Lord, Our resurrection and our life.READER 4: Jesus, crucified Saviour,In your dying you entrusted each to the other,Mary your mother and John your beloved disciple:Sustain and comfort all who mourn.
Hear us, risen Lord,Our resurrection and our life.
READER 3: Jesus, our way and truth and life,You drew your disciple Thomas from doubt to faith:Reveal the resurrection faith to the doubting and the lost.
Hear us, risen Lord,Our resurrection and our life.
PAT:We bring before God all who at this time are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, in the words Jesus taught us to pray:
ALL:Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.Amen.
PAT:May God in his infinite love and mercyBring the whole church,Living and departed in the Lord Jesus,To a joyful resurrectionAnd the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom.Amen.
May God give youHis comfort and his peaceHis light and his joy,In this world and the nextAnd the blessing of God AlmightyThe Father, the Son and the Holy SpiritBe upon you and all whom you loveThis day and for evermoreAmen
CHOIR/ORGAN: ANTHEM: The Lord bless you and keep you (Rutter)
[ORGAN: VOLUNTARY: Apparition de l’eglise eternelle (Messiaen)]