Saturday, June 20, 2009

Memorial Service at Carmountside Cemetery (21st June 2009)

Tomorrow (Sunday June 21st) I am speaking at the annual memorial service at Carmountside Cemetery in Stoke-on-Trent. The service is broadly Christian, in that we are having Christian hymns and a Christian minister (me) to lead it, but in other respects is non-confessional, even non-religious in the way that an area with a long and firm tradition of non-conformity thinks is 'ordinary'. There will certainly be those there (many of them) who never go to any forms of worship, and probably that last time they heard a hymn or said a prayer was at the funeral of the loved one they are coming to remember.
This year the service is being held out of doors (an act of faith in itself), so I thought some reflection on the beauty of creation would not be inappropriate. I am going to read St Francis' Canticle of the Sun (slightly adapted ... keen eyed readers will notice how and may not approve) and then try to draw out a message of hope and comfort (with a little very gentle evangelisation). So - here goes.

Reading: Canticle of Brother Sun

All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through all you have made,
    and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
    and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
    Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
    and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
    bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
    all the weather's moods,
    by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
    so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
    through whom you brighten up the night.
    How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
    Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
    Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
    and produces various fruits with colored flowers
    and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through those who forgive for love of you;
    through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
    By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
    From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
    Happy those she finds doing your will!
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
    And serve him with great humility.


We are surrounded by beauty. Gardens which are well kept and well tended, with many shades of green and brown, occasionally shot with flashes of colour in flowers and blossoms. Trees and branches which shade and shape the landscape. The butterfly garden. The doves in their dovecots. And the weather ...

When we remember our loved ones, we often refer to the glories of the natural world. We think of them as stars in the heavens. We remember them with plants and flowers. The places where we say goodbye, where we remember them, where we lay them to rest are gardens, places of grass and stone and trees.

Saint Francis, famous for his love of animals, also, as we have heard, had a great love of the natural world - sun, moon, wind, fire, stars, water, flowers. They were so special to him that he called them his Brothers and Sisters. All of them led him to rejoice in their beauty and God’s many blessings.

And some of those words may seem a little shocking to us, but they speak of a deep truth. ‘Sister Death’, he says. She too is part of the natural world.

When we lose someone we love we may feel so torn, so lost, so bereft. Our heart aches and our eyes burn. Part of ourselves has gone. But the wonders of the world around us and the knowledge that our loss is part of life itself is also a great hope.

In death we see life and hope. The shoots of growth. The colours of the earth. Wind and Rain, Sun and Heat give us not a remembrance of the past, but the promise of a future. The cemetery is a place of life and growth and beauty. For the believer the world around us is a real sign of hope in life beyond this life. Whatever you believe or hold to be true, or however much you struggle to understand, be uplifted by all the bright and beautiful glories of creation which surround us.

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