Why do we remember people? Let us each think for a moment of someone we remember who has been very important to us but whom we see no more in this life… Can we hold that person’s memory before us and offer it to God? Can we let God hold us and reconnect us? Can we let go of that person and our memories into God’s eternal love and be renewed in our lives and continuing relationships? That is what this weekend’s great festival of All Saints, of All Hallows, involves. We remember because relationship is at the heart of God and God’s love for us, just as relationship is at the heart of our human lives. In Christ, we are in relationship with one another, and with those who have gone before us, and with those who will come after us. All Saints, All Hallows, is thus a wonderful opportunity to restore this sense of relationship. It is not the only opportunity. November as a whole for example is a particularly important time for renewing our relationship, in Christ, with those who have gone before us: including those who have died and gone before us in war. Yet All Saints brings this most powerfully together, linking past, present and future...
It is a special time of year, isn’t it? All Saints, and this wider time of remembrance, is what I call a ‘thin time’: a time when we may feel the distinctions between past, present and future, between earth and heaven, to be especially thin. For All Saints, and the wider time of remembrance, draws us more deeply into awareness of what the Christians creeds call the great ‘communion of saints’: the most profound and intimate relationship, in Christ, between the past, present and future, and between earth and heaven. This communion, as a great Anglican theologian (F.D.Maurice) once put it, is a communion which stretches from earth to heaven, through all the ages, and it is a holy communion not made by hands but by the infinitely loving, sustaining, and recreating grace of God.
As we grow older, we encounter new things and new people, but sadly we also lose many precious things and people. Have you lost something or someone very precious recently? It is very painful, isn’t it? All Saints reminds us that those loved by God can never be entirely lost to us, for everything and everyone precious is ultimately held in the love of God in which all of time and space is held together. In God, past, present and future are all one. Christ, ultimately, is all in all. So we should have no fear or ultimate sadness. We are not separated for ever from what has gone before us. We are not separate from what will come after us. We are one, in Christ Jesus, in the great communion of saints. This is why we pray today as part of the feast of All Saints and why we particularly remember the departed.
What does this mean in practical living though? Let me suggest three things. Firstly it means that we continue to honour what has been: not clinging to it but respecting and drawing from it. In other words, we honour memory and we treasure and engage with history. We do so not to fall into the terrible trap of traditionalism but to find new ways to renew what is good in our developing traditions. Secondly, in order to renew our traditions, we then also open ourselves to the future: to what God will do, afresh, in the days, and years, and ages to come. This means we do not just live for ourselves today but we care for the generations yet to come. It means that we think about what kind of a world God wants for our children’s children and our children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children. We make sure that how we act today, for example towards the environment, takes proper account of that. Do we see that? For Christian doctrine is not something weird or religious in the narrow sense of that word. What we say in the creeds has implications for here and now. If we say we believe in the communion of saints it means that we commit ourselves to care for the future, as well as for the past and our present needs.
The present, as part of God’s eternity, is intended to be a living sacrament, a living sign, of belonging to the communion of saints. For how we think and act in the present expresses how we truly feel about the past and the future and what value we really have for them. That is why I am glad that we launch this year’s Archbishop’s November Appeal today. For this year’s Appeal is for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters in Christ. This is really vital. For, unlike many Appeals for needs overseas, support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians depends almost exclusively on us. Appeals for work in, say, Africa, or Asia, are often complemented by similar appeals in other countries. It is up to Australians almost alone however to dig deep to enable the great gifts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians to be nurtured properly and the needs of their people to be addressed. Please therefore do give very generously to this year’s Archbishop’s Appeal. The money raised will go directly to raising up and developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian ministry, not least through the two Indigenous Christian colleges in Cairns and Darwin: Nungalinya and Wontulp-Bi-Buya colleges. Their work is amazing. I have had the blessing of being able to visit both colleges and they are astonishing in what they do. They bring together Christians from so many different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Yet they somehow transcend and use the many, many, differences in culture, language and background to build up many vibrant, educated, and spiritually aware Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians whose leadership and ministry is so vital for their communities, indeed sometime simply for people’s survival. Nungalinya and Wontulp-Bi-Buya do all this on a shoestring. Every dollar is therefore crucial.
Giving to this year’s November Appeal certainly embodies our participation in the communion of saints. It says we care about the past: for the astonishing Australian past and the longest continuous living peoples, cultures and traditions on Earth. It says that we care about the present: both for the deep present challenges of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Christians and also their amazingly varied gifts. And it says that we care about the future: for the future of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children and their children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children; the future of our country, together, black and white; the future of God’s saints, the children of God. It says that we believe in God in all things, times and places, even in sorrow and mourning, through Christ who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.