Reverend Martin Johnson
Job 14.1-14; Psalm 29; John 5.19-29
It is true that the Articles of Religion in our Prayer Book describe the doctrine of purgatory as something vainly invented. But in endeavouring to purge the Church of corrupt practises, we lost something significant in our lives of prayer.
The recent funeral of HM Queen brought into the spotlight the Church’s traditional funeral rites, which are rarely seen by many today. Beneath all the extraordinary pomp of the royal funeral it was a funeral much like any other that the Church celebrates. Quite correctly, the funeral was a deeply solemn occasion; it is true that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but mourn we do. Primarily we mourn because every life ends in a state of imperfection. Every one of us dies without having fully resolved the wrongs committed, be they in thought word or deed. We all die with hopes and dreams unrealised, with contradictions, with unfaithfulness. There is a strong push today to bypass some of these things. Our lectionary tells us we can wear purple or white today. The white of Easter is a reminder of the joy of resurrection, but to go straight to Easter is to fail to recognise the cross. The clergy at the Queen’s funeral quite correctly wore the black of mourning as I do today.
The words of Croft’s burial service sung at the Queen’s Funeral as her coffin came into Westminster Abbey included some of the words from Job that we read this morning.
A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last. Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgement with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can.
All Souls is an ancient commemoration that helps us to mourn. It reminds us that indeed no one can bring a clean thing out of an unclean; all our endings have about them a sense of tragedy. It reminds us of God’s judgement; but to speak, let alone preach, about judgement, without prefixing it with the word merciful is to fail to do justice to what we are about today.
At the heart of the royal funeral—at the heart of every Christian funeral—are Commendation and Committal. At the conclusion of the Queen’s funeral, we heard the Archbishop of Canterbury commend the Queen to Almighty God. She was commended to God’s merciful keeping: this is indeed a call for mourning and, yes, prayer. It is right that we remember those who have gone before us; our care doesn’t, can’t, just cease. We commend them to the God who is the creator of all, and who in Christ is also our redeemer. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can . . . only God in Christ.
In St George’s Windsor, at the committal of the Queens mortal remains, we saw the removal of all the emblems of monarchy on the coffin. She was simply Elizabeth. It is for her and all those who have died this past year and all those who memories are dear to us that we gather today and mourn and prayerfully commend them once again to God’s merciful keeping. Amen.