I was watching a television programme yesterday explaining why our trees are offering us a particularly spectacular Autumn display this year. I have to say I am enjoying the sights. In my own garden my two chrysanthemum plants have just flowered and produced a wonderfully colourful display that really brightens up my garden, just what you want at this time of the year when the clocks go back. For many, chrysanthemums are associated with death and funerals, they were certainly the flower of choice for funerals when I was a child. I suppose that might explain why they are not very popular. November is the month when the Church focuses on the dead. We celebrate All Saints and All Souls, we also have Remembrance Sunday. Thinking about death need not be unduly morbid, it is a part of the reality of our lives, but for Christians it is seen through the prism of our Easter faith. “I am the resurrection and the life says the Lord.” “We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.” Death is the horizon we travel towards and ultimately beyond, it is but part of the journey.
People have often asked me about funeral plans. After all many people now pay for their funerals in advance, so why not plan the service as well? I speak from recent experience, for those of us tasked with the responsibility of arranging a loved ones funeral, some instructions can be invaluable. So during the month of November why not think about writing down your wishes, we have produced a simple form which you can fill in and can be kept safe in the office, alternatively you could deposit your wishes with your solicitor. Which leads me to another aspect of sensible planning: your will. Have you made a will? Again it is not morbid to create such a document, but sensible planning for the future. Perhaps when you are drawing up your will you might consider leaving a legacy to St Nicholas, to help in our work, to secure the church for future generations and to provide a place and community. Again, if you would like some help please talk to one of the clergy.
Living in a culture that is so much in denial about death, it is disconcerting to be reminded of it so starkly on All Hallows Eve. Images of death are so openly displayed, as children dressed as skeletons knock on doors for trick or treats. (I was able to track their footsteps the next morning by the trail of empty sweet wrappers dropped along the pavements, says she grumpily!) But instead of a time of ghosts and ghouls, in this season the Church celebrates the life and witness of the departed, those whom we have known and loved, and the Christian saints who have gone before us.
Our pace of life today moves on so fast that we barely have a chance to pause and reflect on all that we have, yet alone whom and what we have lost. I am told that in London before the Great War two large retailers sold nothing but clothes for those to wear whilst in mourning. After the war they soon closed down. With a society facing so much death, the focus was for life to go on. We too have that same urge to keep moving on, but in this month the Church urges us to stop and reflect, to rejoice and remember.
One of the most moving parts of officiating at funerals is when, as the coffin is driven away from the church, the priest walks in front of the hearse for the first few yards, holding up all the traffic. This bold gesture tells the world that, for a brief period of time, nothing is more important than the deceased person and their life. Here is death, and it has its place in the hustle and bustle of Chiswick. In the face of death we should all stop and notice. Life should stand still for a while as we grieve and share our sadness and sense of loss. All too quickly, however, life does move on again and the busyness of the street continues, this brief interlude in the day quickly covered over and forgotten.
With every blessing