From the Day of the Dead in Mexico to All Saint’s Day in England, this is the time of year we mourn our dead. We come together this Sunday to remember, grieve and honour the losses in our life, but also call ourselves back to hope. If you would like, please bring a photo of a lost loved one to place on the central altar.
Rev. Fiona Heath is our half-time consulting minister.
The complete sermon can be read below:
We come together, in this season of late fall, a time of endings and darkness, a time of sudden cold and migrating geese.
We come together today to remember and acknowledge our longings and losses of the past year. Like those who commemorate Samhain or the Day of the Dead or All Soul’s Day in this season, As Unitarian Universalists we come together in community to honour our griefs, which shape us as much as any joy does.
In a few minutes we will have a remembrance ritual in which you will be invited to light a candle in memory of those you have lost.
The Unitarian Universalist tradition is one that affirms life and celebrates this world. We don’t pretend to know what happens after death. Perhaps we return to the earth, to the elements, to the stardust from which our atoms were born billions of years ago. Perhaps our spirits, our conscience, whatever that essence that is uniquely us, returns to life in other bodies. Perhaps we reunite with loved ones gone before us. We don’t know. We can’t know. It is the final mystery.
We do know, as Jimi Hendrix said, that no one here gets out alive. Death is inevitable, we simply don’t know when. For some of us it comes far too soon, before we have done all that we want to do, or before we get a chance to say farewell. For some it is an old friend late for dinner, impatiently awaited. However death comes, we must learn how to accept it as part of the interdependent web of which we are a part. So while we as people of the chalice affirm life, we also acknowledge death as natural and normal.
This is a difficult truth, as death brings great grief and loss. For “our lives take their meaning from their interlacing with other lives, and when one life is ended, those into which it was woven are also carried into darkness.” (Adlai Stevenson). When someone we care for dies, we are carried into the darkness. This is a hard place to be, in a society obsessed with light. We are taught from childhood that there are fearful monsters in the dark, that the dark is an unwanted place of nightmares and evil, evil that only the light can vanquish. Yet you truly can’t have one without the other. It is in the dark that light shines the brightest. It is only after night that we can appreciate the day. Dark and light are entangled together, and we must learn to live with both.
As Unitarian Universalists, we embrace the darkness as part of the cycle of living and loving and dying. While the dark can be a terrible place, it is also a necessary place. It can be a place of learning and transformation. We can survive the dark times, even grow during them, if we can trust that light will return.
A few years ago, my family and I visited the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico. This gigantic cave system far below ground is a wonder, filled with fantastic formations, all carefully and brightly lit with lights. We took a cave tour of a cavern that was undeveloped and unlit, to see the formations in a more natural state. The rangers led the tour with candle lanterns. Towards the end of our visit, the rangers invited us to sit down, They blew out their candles and we sat in the dark. I have never experienced darkness in that way before. Total. Complete. Absolute. My eyes were wide open yet I could see nothing – there was no depth in the dark, no outlines, just utter blackness. Anxiety lived there, in the dark, and I could hear a quiet panic in people’s voices as they reached out to invisible companions. Another visitor stretched out his arm and the glow of his watch flared out and brought our depth of vision back. He quickly covered it up again, and we all laughed – nervously and with some relief.
Peace came in those final quiet moments as we all sat there in a dark pit far underground, wrapped completely in blackness, as we knew that light was there too, waiting to return.
We come together today, the people of chalice, to commemorate those we have loved. As we remember those we have lost, whether the grief is fresh or long familiar, let us remember that though we go into the dark, light will be found.
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