Sermon for Sunday, 1st November 2009 (All Saints’ Day)
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ Matthew 5:4
The cassette tape is well worn, ‘Makem and Clancy Live’, recorded at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in 1983. It has been played many times; the songs have been a companion on many moments
The most beautiful of the songs is not even by an Irishman. ‘The Orchard’, is by a songwriter called Kevin Evans from Nova Scotia in Canada, but it is set in Dungarvan in Co Waterford.
The song is a very quiet, reflective piece. A man remembers his experiences of this orchard. At nine years, old he recalls climbing over the orchard wall to steal apples At thirteen, his memory is of sitting behind the orchard wall drinking cider and poitin and later hoping that the pain in his head would end soon. At twenty–one, his happiest memory is walking through the apple blossom with his young bride. Now, at the end of the song he is eighty-one, his family long since grown up and away, his wife sadly dead. He looks forward to leaving this life and becoming one with the elements, the wind and the sea and the blossom.
It is a moving song, but it is also a very melancholic song, (perhaps the result of too much poitin), and it is a song that captures the view of life held by many, if not the majority of people. People’s hopes and expectations are entirely set in this world. The only happiness for which they hope is happiness here and now, and when that happiness fades then their life loses meaning.
How often have we got caught up in thinking this way? We will sit and look nostalgically back at the past and we will feel that maybe things are not as happy as they once were and that something has been lost.
How often would we ever look forward? How often would we ever think about the words of songs like ‘When the saints go marching in’ and say, ‘yes, that applies to me’; ‘yes, I’m looking forward to that day’.
Songs like ‘The Orchard’ are full of melancholy because they are about the end of life. If we really believed that the end of the here and now was the end of life, we would have every reason for melancholy. If the few short years here was our lot, it would be a very bleak, very dreary, very dismal.
But the whole point of being a Christian is being confident that this is not the end.
‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh’, says Jesus. Yes, there is sadness to go through; yes, there are difficult times; yes, there will be tears — but there are days of smiles and laughter and endless joy to come.
The commemoration of All Saints’ Day is intended to celebrate what it is Jesus has done. It is intended to celebrate that after the weeping there will come the laughter. It is intended to celebrate that the man from Nazareth destroyed the power of death when he came back to life on that Easter morning and that all his followers now share in his life.
The commemoration of all the saints is a commemoration of all of God’s people who have gone before us, not just the people in the stained glass windows, but all who have believed in Jesus down through the generations.
We may weep now, but the times are coming when we will laugh. When we stand and we say the Creed, we are saying that this is what we believe.
In the last two lines of the Creed we say, ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come’. When we say the Creed, we are saying that the words of the song ‘The Orchard’ are untrue. We are saying that our spirit doesn’t go off to mingle with the elements, but that we as individual human beings continue to live as individual people. We don’t know how, but this is what we believe.
Not only do we continue to live as individuals, but the life to come is one filled with joy and light, the weeping is past and the days are filled with laughter. This is what we believe.
If I did not believe this, then I would think that there would be no point in the Church existing at all. If what we said Sunday by Sunday, if the faith of Christians down through the generations, if the words shared down through the centuries; if these were not true, then the Church would be no more than a scandalous fraud and all the faithful of the past 2,000 years would have been misled.
The one single point upon which the whole Christian faith rests is our belief that Jesus rose from the dead and made a way for all the saints who would follow him. If he did not, then life would be very melancholy indeed.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ – comfort, happiness, blessedness lies ahead, for the saints, for our loved ones, for you and for me.
Thank you for your sermon. You are clarity itself. “The one single point upon which the whole Christian faith rests is our belief that Jesus rose from the dead and made a way for all the saints who would follow him. If he did not, then life would be very melancholy indeed” Indeed.
Please do not think me rude, and I am going to totally mis-quote someone, but scariest thing in the world is a man who is certain of his future.
Just now I cannot recall the source of the quote, but I’m sure you grasp the sentiment.
Keep up the good work!
Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 15 sets out his belief that either the resurrection is true, or the whole thing is pointless. I would agree with him, if there is no resurrection, then the whole Christian business seems a rather silly waste of time. Anyone reading the daily papers in this country would quickly conclude that there is no way here that virtue is its own reward.
Thank you for Indulging me in my amateur musings. But the statement “either the resurrection is true, or the whole thing is pointless” is surely a sophism. There are absolutely no other views of the world. What is wrong with the “whole thing” being pointless? Does that not leave room to develop non-theistic framework – such as humanism or varieties of it ?
All of these beliefs or stratagies are surely man’s way of dealing with pointlessness.
Or maybe it is as simple as the selfish gene of Mr. Dawkins.
Tea time ‘philosophy and theology – isn’t it grand.
The whole thing being pointless is quite a tenable position, and I would regard it as having more integrity than being a Christian who tries to ‘demytholgize’ faith, but for me a world without the hope of resurrection would be fundamentally amoral. I would prefer to take a Pascalesque punt on divine reward (and retribution!) than go down the path of nihilism, which I think would be the logical alternative.
Thank you again. I have to say (and you must by now, expect me to say!) that I do not accept that nihilism is the logical outcome. Anyway, roll on the next sermon.
If the abandonment of faith does not lead to nihilism, what reference points are there for constructing a ‘humanist’ perspective?
I do not believe in the goodness of human nature: I was in Rwanda during the summer.
I do not speak from a humanist viewpoint. To suggest abandonment of faith implies the existence of a faith in the first instance. Why think of such matters in a negative way? I am saying that lack of a belief in something greater than ourselves necessarily leads to nihilism.
You do not believe in the goodness of human nature. Indeed Rwanda was horrible beyond words. But I would ask you to study the influence of the church (Roman Catholic, but that is of no consequence, any religious system would do) on the Tutsi people.
I cannot believe other than in the inherent goodness of people. (Christianity, among others, comes to mind). Of course there are many who are not, or seem not, of such a gentle nature. There are many secular societies (cities, towns) to prove that people, in general, do not wish to hurt each other. Of course Capitalism slightly dents this argument.
Onwards and upwards!
I think I’m probably Dawkinseque in some of my thinking! Evolutionary science suggests competition and struggle are the order of things – and capitalism to me seems to be built into human nature.
Do altruism and goodness not stem from social conditioning rather than natural inclination; co-operation in struggles being a more successful evolutionary model than a selfish individualism?
If we co-operate in struggles surely that stems from ‘selfish individualism’ ? The self wanting to protect itself. Combing individuals together for a common goal is merely a combination of selfish invdividuals. I stil maintain that we are inherently good – circumstances may make some people ‘bad’ – such as the need to protect one’s family. If goodness (to each other) is not a natural incliniation, is badness the opposite?
Forgive the garbled sentences – I’m in a rush out the door!
You are more familiar than I with these arguments from your days of study .
Onward christian soldiers…………