Comfort
Matthew 5:1-12

Today I’d like to focus on one verse from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.  I’ve only commemorated All Saints day a couple of times in my life, it’s not something that we Lutherans seem to do very often, but it is included in our calendar as a festival for us to include.

The custom of commemorating all of the martyrs of the church on a single day goes back at least to the third century. In modern practice, All Saints' Day commemorates not only all the martyrs but all the people of God, living and dead, who form the mystical body of Christ.

Many congregations use All Saints day to remember individual members who have died throughout the year and invite family members to come to the service and again give thanks for their life.  I haven’t had the chance to organise that this year, but we have a candle here around the Paschal candle for each of the people that Pastor Mark or I have conducted funerals for this past year.  Later in the service I will invite you to come forward and light a candle yourself and place it in one of the trays to help you remember and give thanks to God for loved ones who have gone before us.

Today I’d like to tell you a story, you may have heard it before, but I think it does a fantastic job of explaining the transition from this world to the next and helps those who mourn to be comforted.

I first heard this used at a funeral during my vicarage, the pastor had a children’s address as part of the service.  I think the adults were as touched by the sentiment as the children were.

It goes something like this, I won’t read it to you verbatim.
There was once a colony of water bugs living below the surface of a quiet pond.  The bugs spent many months scurrying around in the silt at the bottom of the pond, and from time to time they noticed that one of their friends would grab hold of a pond lily stem and gradually move out of sight and then they weren’t seen anymore.  Those left behind would wait and wait, but their friends never came back.  They wondered where their friend had gone, and made a pact, the next one to climb up a stalk would come back and tell the others where they went and why.

Then one spring day one of them found himself climbing up a lily stalk, suddenly he found himself on the surface, sitting on the leaf of the lily pad that he’d only ever seen the bottom of.

He was tired from the climb, so he went to sleep on the lily pad, when he woke up he was startled by the change he noticed in his body, he shook himself and realised he had four beautiful wings and a long tail.  The warm sun dried him off and flapped his wings, suddenly he was in the air above the water, he looked at his reflection and realised that he had become a magnificent dragonfly.  He found himself swooping and flitting around loving the new atmosphere he had found himself in.

When it was time to take a rest, he landed on a lily pad again.  When he did he looked over the edge and could see all of the water bugs running around at the bottom of the pond and he remembered his promise to go back and tell them where he’d gone and why.  He flew up into the air and tried to dive down through the surface of the water, but he just bounced off.  He couldn’t go back into the water.  He realised that if he did go back, his friends wouldn’t recognise him anyway!  He decided he would just have to wait for them to come up to him instead, knowing that they would understand when they came too.  So he flew off to enjoy his new found freedom.

While this might just be a fable and not at all Biblical, we can find such stories helpful in coming to terms with the things we face in this life.  Jesus used parables to explain difficult concepts to the people who gathered to listen too.  If we see this story as a parable I think it does a great job of explaining that those who have died have passed to a better place, one that they can never return from, but it is worth going to, there is a freedom that we have never experienced. 

We go about our lives, just like the water bugs do, then one day our turn will come, and we too will be given new life, transformed from our earthly bodies, never able to return, but in truth, probably never wanting to.

In Revelation 7 we see a glimpse of things to come, “ I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb.  They were wearing with robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.  They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to God for ever and ever.  Amen!”

Do you imagine your loved ones gathered around the throne, singing praises to God?  I know I do!  Do you see yourself being there one day too?  I hope you do, and so does Jesus, he came so that he could one day take you to be with him, forgiven, Holy and living eternally with him, singing joyfully in praise of the Father, who sent his Son, so that you might be saved.

In our display, the candles representing those who have gone before us are gathered around the Paschal candle which is representing the Lamb of God, Jesus.  All the saints are gathered around the throne singing praises to him, one day we too will be gathered around that throne, with our loved ones, singing praises to the Lamb as well, washed clean by the blood of the lamb, perfect in his sight.
 

Every time we gather for Holy Communion I’m reminded that we gather with the saints of all time, the ‘communion of saints’, I love the symbolism of old churches where the cemetery is behind the church, the bodies of the saints completing the circle of those who come forward to the sanctuary to receive the body and blood of Christ, from his throne, the altar.

In all of these things we receive comfort, knowing that even though we can no longer see or feel or touch our loved ones, they are in a better place, a place that we long for, singing praises to God, rejoicing in their new found freedom, waiting patiently for us to come and join them.

Hallelujah, Amen.