When you take funerals as I do, you soon discover that though it might sometimes seem otherwise we are surrounded by Saints. I have buried hundreds of them!
Often when I go and see families they will speak of their loved one describing all that was good about them. Sometimes though gaps will appear in the story, or I can sense that something has been left unsaid, and so will gently probe a bit deeper. They might then tell me but then add “But we don’t want that mentioning at the funeral.”
What they’re doing is I think wanting to present the person who has died in the best light. Telling me what was good in their life rather than dwell too long on what wasn’t.
Of course that’s important. Funerals are not so much for the one who has died as for those who are left behind. And so remembering all that was good in someone’s life helps punctuate the inevitable sadness with thanksgiving.
However I’m also there to help them be honest and remind them that these edited highlights are certainly not for God’s benefit, the one ‘from whom no secrets are hidden.’ Perhaps that’s where All Souls Day comes in later this week.
Then, almost implicitly, as we pray for the dear departed we’re perhaps more mindful of human frailty and failure. Maybe it’s in the calendar because it speaks to a very human need. The need to pray for them. To make sure that God knows how loved and important they were and still are to us, whatever their failures. But that’s for Wednesday.
This morning we’re thinking about Saints. And looking back to the saints I’ve buried over the years, the families I often most enjoy spending time with are those who don’t present the edited highlights but are honest, sometimes painfully so, about the life being remembered.
This honesty doesn’t take anything away from the person being remembered, rather it tells of how truly loved, even with all their flaws and weaknesses the person was.
Likewise when I’ve known the person who has died it makes such a difference to what I might say.
I’ve been here a little while now and I can think of a few folk from amongst the Saints here at St. Mary’s who have died. At their funerals I can really talk from having known them a little, can mention their flaws knowing too how loved they were. We sometimes love them all the more because these foibles made them who there were.
And here we get to the heart of what I want to say this morning, for it seems to me that when we do this, when we remember not the edited highlights, but the whole story, framed by love, then I hope and pray we get close to how God sees us.
A God who using the words of one of our collects looks ‘not on our sins but on our faith.’
A God who isn’t interested in edited highlights but in who we really are, what defines our lives.
One thing that certainly defined the Saints we remember today was their faith. In our Epistle St. Paul says ‘ever since I heard about your faith.’
Saints then and now aren’t defined by miracles but by faith. They were people, just like you and me who’d been caught up in a vision of the living God at work in their lives and the lives of those around them. I’ve been privileged to meet a few along the way, as you likely have too.
But wouldn’t it be lovely if Paul’s words were said of us today. So that others would hear of our faith.
Of course, living that faith, as the Saints down the ages have known when faced with the challenges and changes of life isn’t easy. Yet despite these failures and denials, God loves us as we are. Sees the best in us. Looks on our faith not our failure.
Inviting us time and again to re-imagine what the world might look like transformed by the love at the heart of it alljuj. Saints weren’t perfect but they, as I think we at our best do too, had glimpsed a vision of a new future. So God used them, as in this time and place God uses us too.
As we begin this week of Saints and Souls perhaps you might carry with you those memorable words of St Paul to us this morning, and in daring to live them, we pray that those around us may hear of our faith.
‘May the glorious father give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know him better’ having the ‘eyes of our heart(s) enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which he has called us.’ Amen.