…for those we love but see no longer.

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One of the greatest gifts of liturgy, much like a powerful poem or memorable speech, is the way a simple succinct phrase within it can sometimes reveal a depth of experience or emotion that is almost beyond words to truly capture. Just a few words, expressed in just the right way at the right time in the right circumstances, can express a comforting intimate knowledge that can say to the hearer “I know what you are feeling…I’ve been there.”

One such phrase comes within one of the “Additional Prayers” that appear toward to the end of the pastoral service for the The Burial of the Dead:

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Those eight words “for those we love, but see no longer” capture for me all the tender and bittersweet emotions for those persons especially dear who — although very much alive in my heart — have ended their time on this planet. Those eight words speak of those special loved ones I will never glimpse again this side of paradise, except perhaps in my most fortunate and happiest dreams.

Earlier this week, on November 1, many liturgical churches celebrated the “Feast of All Saints” most often referred to as “All Saints Day.” It is considered one of the “high holy days” of the Anglican tradition and is a time to pause and pay special attention to that “great cloud of witnesses” that have come before us on this earthly journey. Often in the All Saints Day service the names of all the parishioners who have died in the previous year are read aloud, one by one, as a way of remembrance.

The next day, November 2, is its companion feast “All Souls Day” or the “Feast of the Faithful Departed.” It is more widely recognized in Latin America than the United States. Whereas All Saints Day is more corporate and global and historical, the emphasis during the Feast of the Faithful Departed is more personal, to honor a particular loved one or set of loved ones with such things as listening to the music they especially liked, enjoying the food they found especially satisfying, wearing an article of their clothing or carrying a personal item they treasured. It is a common practice to place a picture of the departed by a candle for the day.

Most often in most Episcopal churches, the two days are celebrated as one on “All Saints Sunday” which happens to be today. Thus it seems an especially appropriate time to embrace such a prayer as the one above, and indeed to let it embrace us.

In sure and certain hope…

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It is often said that the opposite of faith is doubt. When I look at the world today, and especially when I observe many self-proclaimed “Christians” in the news, the “evidence” points me to a different “verdict.”

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.

Sure and certain hope: Truth in Paradox

Many “Christians” on podcasts and TV and talk radio, particularly those that proclaim their Christianity the loudest, don’t remind me a whole lot of Jesus. They seem absolutely sure it is “God’s Will” — just to cite a few examples — that requiring a young student to wear a mask in school is “child abuse,” or that homosexuality is “an abomination,” or that government should force every woman to carry an unintended and unwanted pregnancy to term.  It is one thing to sincerely have and prayerfully be led to those beliefs. It is quite another to be so cock-sure certain that your beliefs are in lock-step with the Almighty in every situation and for all time, and to impose those beliefs upon all of society.  When that happens — and I wish it were not so often — it is not their faith that I see in action; it is their certainty.

That is not to say certainty is all bad. Indeed, there can be no doubt (pun intended) that certainty has its place in faith. It is just of a different variety.

In one of the most moving prayers in the entire lexicon within The Book of Common Prayer, we Episcopalians express a form of certainty at the grave, as we fully “commit” and “commend” our dearest loved ones — and ourselves — to God’s never-failing care.  These final words from “The Committal” liturgy never fail to take my breath away:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother/sister N., and we commit his/her body to the ground; 
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless
him/her and keep him/her, the Lord make his face to shine upon him/her
and be gracious to him/her, the Lord lift up his countenance upon
him/her and give him/her peace. Amen.

It may seem paradoxical that “hope” can somehow still be “sure” and “certain.” The older I get though, the more I find great truths in paradox. This side of Paradise, that is my certainty.

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