Solemn Orchestral Requiem Eucharist, 11 November 2018, Ely Cathedral
- Epistle: 1 Peter 1.3–9
- Gospel: John 5.19–25
The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. — John 5.24
From where we stand, on the shore where the living are confined, we see only the impassable swift stream set between us and the dead who have gone before us. Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s play, talked despairingly of ‘the bourn from which no traveller returns’. A ‘bourn’ is a river – Northern and Scottish usage still calls rivers ‘burns’. It is a one-way crossing, says Hamlet; we do not come back.
But in our Christian hope we give that river a name. We call it ‘Jordan’. Because for us it is the baptismal river, through which our Lord Jesus passed and, as he came up out of the water, was acclaimed by God as his Beloved Son. When we call the death-crossing ‘Jordan’ we remember that Jesus passed through the deep waters of death in order to be embraced by the everlasting life of God.
So Jesus, human and finite as we are, mortal as we are, yet carrying within him the power and glory of God, joins together death and life. He bridges the unbridgeable crossing. He speaks the words of life in the place to which the dead have gone, and the impossible happens: the dead hear his voice, and live.
Today we remember especially the dead who died with their lives and their promise unfinished and unfulfilled. They died by violence, and their loss is beyond our understanding. We see the waste of the lives they did not live as we look upon the tossing waste of waters between them and us, and we mourn for them even as we thank them for the actions of their often brief lives. As we do these things, we grieve that the dead cannot hear us.
But the dead can hear one voice. They can hear the voice of the one whom death could not hold, the one through whom death is joined back into life. In our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows our griefs and has carried our sorrows, the unspeakable joy of God’s life beyond loss is his gift to the dead and to those who die. He joins us, in himself, to the Creator of all things, redeeming all the lost time, and saving everything that is good and true. For the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. Amen.