Why are we here tonight? The answer is actually very simple. We are all here because of Love.
We are here to remember before God our departed friends and family because we love them. In this life we received love from them and we loved them in return. And that loving does not finish or die with the grave. If it did there’d be no point in being here tonight. Your presence is proof of the fact that the reality of love continues beyond death into eternity.
What does that tell us about the teaching of the Christian faith regarding death? It tells us that this Love must have come from somewhere. It isn’t just a psychologically induced emotion. It isn’t just a mental state of elation or well-being.
No, if we love, then our love has to have come from somewhere – and the Christian faith says it comes from God. Not only did God love us by creating us, but he gave his only Son to die and rise so that we might have eternal life.
The core teaching of Christianity is that God revealed himself to humanity in his Son, Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t just a means of divine communication with humanity. No Jesus is more than that. He is the gift of God himself. The gift of new life and our point of reconciliation with the Father. Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead so that our sins might be forgiven and death be defeated for ever.
That, I think, is what our gospel reading tonight is talking about. Jesus speaks of how much his heavenly Father wants us to live with him for ever: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
The Father’s gift to us is eternal life. And the way we have access to this gift is through faith in Christ. Those who believe and trust in Jesus and in the power of his cross to save, can have eternal life with God.
But how does what we’re doing here today relate to that?
Well just as we can pray for someone in this life, we can continue to pray for them in the life to come. Prayer isn’t just about asking God for things. It’s also about holding someone we love in the presence of God and committing them to his loving protection. So praying for someone can be as simple a thing as just being in God’s presence with that person on our hearts.
And when we pray for someone like that we are linked to them through a bond of love that can transcend the grave.
When we worship together, the church has always taught that we do so in the presence of all God’s saints and angels – and of all our departed loved ones. We can pray for them and with them – right here and now – asking that God will forgive their sins, purify them and make them ready to behold his face, and draw them closer to himself in the eternity of his kingdom. We pray that our departed loved ones might experience those life-giving benefits of Jesus’ death – eternal life with him.
That’s why we do it in the context of the Eucharist. The bread and wine of the Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we can feel especially close to those who have died because we can feel especially close to Jesus. Jesus is the link between us and them – because Jesus is the one who makes eternal life possible.
So in this Eucharist, pray for those whom you love but see no longer. Pray that they might experience ever more deeply the reality of God’s kingdom in heaven. But draw close yourself to Jesus as well – to him who gives himself to you in this sacrament. For it is in him alone that we hope for salvation, and it is in him alone that our loved ones have that eternal life that he promises to those who trust in him.
Fr Peter Anthony