Sunday, November 13, 2016


One of the things that the Church of England does well is stand alongside the wider community, of all religions and no religious faith, at times of loss.

Loss is a universal part of life, and not simply because people – and places, and dreams – die. The gift of life opens us up to the gift of love; and it is the gift of love that opens us up to the pain of loss.

We, the Church of England, take a lot of funerals. The liturgy – the words; but, literally, the work; the work those present share in together – of the funeral service includes Prayers of Penitence. These come immediately after the tribute to the deceased. That is, in the light of the life they have lived, its joys and sorrows, its gains and losses, its failings and the ways in which those failures were redeemed or transformed into something positive and even beautiful; and in the light of the fact that their life is over; and in the light of the fact that our own life will one day be over, and then we will have no opportunity to make amends; we are helped to recognise that we might have some work to do. The work of the moment is to recognise that work which we might need to go and do, if we are prepared to do so.

There is more material in the funeral service than there is often time for, especially where we are constrained by crematorium timetables, and I suspect that the Prayers of Penitence are one of the first sacrifices to be made. After all, no one wants to examine themselves at this moment. They want to remember their relative, friend, neighbour, or colleague, with the selective memory that affirms that we are all good people who have nothing to trouble our conscience. But if not this moment, when? We stand alongside people at times of loss well; but perhaps don’t serve them well when, for reasons of compassion or pragmatism or populism, we avoid the heart of the matter.

It is, perhaps, our experience of standing alongside families and the communities in which they are embedded that equips us to play a particular role in the Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday observations of our communities.

And here, as in relation to funeral services, there is a need for good theological reflection. There has been a move, of late, towards a new kind of Remembrance. One that is less focused on the need for self-examination, in the light of the past, and more focused on self-justification, that bodes ill for the future. And to be clear, we humans are messy, and our motives are always conflicted. This is challenging terrain to navigate, and in a climate where caution is not especially welcome.

For me, and for others, Remembrance Sunday has become increasingly complex, increasingly messy, increasingly uncomfortable.

Which is, perhaps, all the more reason to sit in the complexity, the mess, the discomfort. To welcome, and embrace, and serve others. To invite our communities to join-together in the work of lament, of self-examination, and of renewed commitment to pursuing that which makes for justice and peace.

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