There’s a black darkness on the sea tonight, like the Biblical darkness to be felt and I wonder what it would be like to venture into that horizon, to be enveloped in it without being in a hurry to light it up, to wait within it for the dawn to come.
Down on the shore, three people are gathered around a vibrant fire that lights up their faces, the wonderful scent of burning wood drifting through the air. Further on up a small group are trying to light their Chinese lanterns, perhaps for Remembrance Sunday or maybe for a loved one who has died. It’s not going too well. One young man succeeds in getting a flame going, runs with it that it might catch the breeze to rise into the night, but each time he lets it go it simply flops down on the stones. And I absolutely sympathise with his utter frustration when he gives it a kick and eventually stomps on it.
Getting our lamps lit and keeping them burning isn’t always that easy, as the foolish bridesmaids discovered in the Gospel. The light needs to be carefully tended and it needs oil to keep it going.
The light is the Light of Christ, the flame of Divine Love and the oil is the Grace given to us to keep the Light burning. Grace and Light are badly needed in our time. And the mist that comes gently in from the sea makes me feel how much we need a kind mist to settle on our world that is riven by so much harshness.
The oil, the Grace that is given to us comes in a special way through prayer, those times we spend with God as a community or alone in a personal way, those sacred moments when we are being filled with the oil of God’s Grace so that the Light of Jesus may be lit and burn strongly within us. It is especially in times of darkness that we need the Light.
And so, my prayer for all of us is that we would have the wisdom and the good sense to pray; that we would ask the Lord to teach us to pray in the way that is necessary in our personal life’s situation and in the situation of our society at this time. Good sense and wisdom! The Gospel speaks about the sensible bridesmaids who had enough oil to keep their lamps burning. It is wise and makes sense that we keep our connection with God going, knowing how necessary it is, knowing that it is as vital as the oil is to the lamp, as vital as the air that we breathe, the food we eat and the drink we drink. Prayer in the presence of God is as necessary for the soul as all of these things are for the body.
One of the gifts of Grace that we get from God in prayer is the gift of hope. Hope, especially in relation to death and the afterlife. St. Paul speaks “about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) At first it seems like Paul is saying that Christians should not grieve at all but when we look at Jesus crying at the tomb of Lazarus, it is telling us that we too should cry in the face of death. When I look at my own personal experiences of the deaths of loved ones – when my father died, I cried instantly without thinking; when my mother died, I cried instantly and when my sister died suddenly, I wailed. We are made to grieve. Just like we are made to love.
What I think Paul is saying is that when we grieve our grieving should be infused with the Grace of Christian hope, hope in the eternal life, hope in the resurrection. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.” We do not understand how this will happen but because we believe in Jesus, because we trust Him, we trust His Word. Like the Word He spoke to the thief of the Cross, “today you will be with me in paradise.” That is given to all of us who turn to Him, especially all of us who live for Him, all of us who repent in His presence and accept the Grace of His Mercy and Mercy is the oil of Grace that keeps the Light burning within us.
Today we remember with hope those who gave their lives in war; our own loved ones who fought the battle of life, whose names are carved into our bones; the forgotten dead who might need our prayer on their pilgrimage home to the House of God. And we remember the veterans who survived war and are with us, those among us in our parish – husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and mates whom we are proud to know. I speak of men because they are the veterans I know but there are also wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who have served and given their lives so bravely and generously. We bless their wounds and all that is strong and frail within them – like the frail and resilient poppy that blossomed long ago in the battle fields as testament to our ability to survive and thrive through the greatest challenges that life may send our way.