2 November, 2014
This year, because 2 November falls on a Sunday, the commemoration of All Souls is transferred to tomorrow. I want to suggest that this gives us an opportunity of reflecting on yesterday and looking ahead to tomorrow.
Rather similar to the pause on Holy Saturday, today we sit between two kinds of family trees. These trees relate to every one of us here this morning. There seems to be a contemporary interest in where we come from. I believe there is even a TV programme with the title "Who do you think you are?".
As we look back to All Saints, we are invited to reflect on how we came to be a Christian in the first place. For each of us there is a story: childhood influences, later embraced as our own; some particular experience or occasion which sowed the seed of faith. For some it was a long time ago. For others, more recent. Whatever happened to us, we received our faith from someone. Today we might remember those who were responsible for our coming to faith in Jesus and give thanks for them and for the gift they gave us. Over hundreds of years, this gift has been passed on and the chain of faith must, inevitably, come from Jesus himself - there cannot be a break in this chain of faith.
In this Country, until the reformation, there were at least a thousand years of the same Catholic beliefs and preaching as we celebrate here now. The same liturgical year, the same framework of worship in the ups and downs of life. In between the icons of well known Saints, there peep the faces of ordinary Christian folk whom you may recognise and whom we may remember with great thankfulness. In St Paul's language they were All Saints.
Yesterday we can reflect on our family faith tree. Tomorrow we might contemplate our biological ancestry.
When we were inside our Mother, our heartbeat was close to hers. When your Mother was inside your Grandmother the same was true. This tree goes back to the very start of humanity - again, there cannot be a break in it. At every stage, every generation, there were women and men who carried your genes and DNA and finally brought you here this morning.
Some years ago there was a staggering piece of evidence about all this. Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a prehistoric man, buried in a burial mound in the south of England. It turned out that a schoolmaster in the village nearby had the same DNA.
Just as our faith comes to us through countless lives from the past, so also our very humanity has come to us through the joys and sorrows and struggles and decisions of our own physical ancestors.
My own response to all of this is to include in my prayers each day my ancestors in the faith and all of my blood forebears, whose humanity I share. This practice is part of my understanding of the Body of Christ.
When I enter one of those mediaeval churches in Norfolk or anywhere else, I am aware of the countless folk who have worshipped in that building. Sometimes the door of the church is over a thousand years old and I remember the hands which have pushed that door open, generation after generation. I don't know what the Vicar thinks but I often put in the Visitor's Book "All our ancestors pray for us". Surely this is what the Communion of Saints means.
We don't have a Visitor's Book in this church but nevertheless it is surely appropriate to ask the prayers of all who have worshipped here since it was built. Some we remember, others are part of that great Cloud of Witnesses.
Simon Holden CR