‘Moving on!’ – John Ch 16 v 16-22
On Monday the Royal family, the ‘great & the good’ from the nation and from all over the world will gather at Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Soon after our thoughts will inevitably move on as we anticipate the Coronation of King Charles. It is inevitable that we do move on although we may be reluctant. Often we prefer to stay put, because we are more comfortable with the familiar. But really we have no option but to move on, Moving on is something we are very used to because it is a common feature of life. I am amazed how quickly we adapt to new ways, procedures and practices. Look how naturally in the past 10 days people have adapted the words of the National Anthem!
Sometimes it is very difficult to move on and adapt to change. Not only is it inevitable but essential for our development as human beings if we are not to be stuck in the past!
Of course, the past is important. There are valuable lessons to be learned, experiences to be celebrated and memories for which to be grateful. The past can prepare us for the future. But to resist moving on into the future is counterproductive and ultimately destructive. These past few days we have seen overwhelming demonstrations of gratitude and affection for the eight decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. As inevitable as her death was, we regret it, but of course we have no option but to accept it and move on.
I often think about how the Church has declined over the years and how we have devised strategies for its survival. I ask myself ‘is this to resist the inevitable’? I am only able to say that, because of the belief I have in the Resurrection of Jesus. It is that which persuades me that there is a future. Although unknown, it is a future far better than the past.
Likewise with the monarchy. The transition from one Sovereign to another is also seamless, as is the transition from present to the future that we are we required to move into!
Our lives from the moment we are born involve ‘Moving on’. Even birth is a ‘moving on’ from the security of the womb to the vulnerability of existing as an individual. Our lives are characterised by ‘moving on’, by ‘change’, by dying to the old and familiar and rising to a new, unknown future. We do not know what the future holds. It is guaranteed to be different and it will bring new opportunities and rich experiences we have not known before.
As Jesus prepared his followers for the future into which he was leading them – a future which involved him leaving them and facing death and resurrection, he told them not to be afraid and loose heart. The Fourth Gospel, records how Jesus sought to prepare his followers ‘to move on’ to the future which awaited them.
I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; You will have pain, but your pain will be turned into joy, (Jn.16:20)
We know now that his departure, his death, was inevitable if they were to experience his presence in a new and permanent way which no one would be able to disrupt. Although different it would be far more wonderful than the hitherto physical companionship they had got used to and valued so much. Jesus urged them not to be afraid to let go of him for only in so doing would they come to experience his vital companionship in a wonderful new way. He likens the way forward, the change, to childbirth.
When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. (John 16:21)
Like the transition from the Queen to the King it is a seamless transition. So too the joyful future we anticipate is part and parcel with the pain and grief we experience now. The sense of loss is accompanied by excitement and joy. The future to which we are beckoned does not lie in some indeterminate future. We move into it now, amidst the pain and loss we feel and that gives us the confidence to let go and embrace the future. It just like a ‘rebirth’! As with birth, so with re-birth, the pain ushers in and gives way to ‘new life’.
Death is not necessary a tragedy. It is not final, It is not the end. I wouldn’t want to trivialise the excruciating pain that often accompanies the loss of a loved one, especially when it is premature. The death of a child, as a result of illness or unnecessary and heartless violence, is so hard to understand, as is the inexplicably unbearable pain of a parent’s grief.
When we refer to and celebrate the Communion of the Saints we testify to an on-going fellowship with those who have died, a fellowship which is timeless and stretches beyond space and time. This is not to trivialise the suffering and grief of bereavement or diminish it. It doesn’t relieve the suffering. But surely it means that pain and loss can be, and often is, accompanied with hope and even joy! And we can only pray that that brings some comfort.
When the Queen addressed the nation during the isolation of the Pandemic she concluded with a quotation from wartime song of the late Vera Lynn ‘We’ll meet again’.
And King Charles in the televised speech to the nation shortly after his mother’s death, expressing his deep gratitude to his Mother and his faith that in death she would be reunited with his Father, Prince Philip, ended with words borrowed from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”May ‘flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest’.”
Revd Michael Diffey