Bishop Paul’s homily at Memorial Service held in The Cathedral on Sunday November 1st, 2020.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with Newgrange, that strange structure located about 30 miles outside of Dublin. The experts tell us it is about 5,000 years old. Imagine it was built before the time of Abraham, our father in faith. It was built when the power of symbol spoke deeply to our people. On the 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the shortest day, the darkest moment of year. As the sun rises on that darkest day, it shines into the back of the structure at Newgrange, filling it with light. Today we are almost certain it was a tomb, a burial chamber.
Think about that, think of what our ancestors were saying… Into the place of death at the darkest moment of the year, comes the light of dawn! What a powerful image. A flash of resurrection before our understanding of resurrection ever developed. Our ancestors, before we ever heard of Christ, were pointing to the way of resurrection. This message of light, of hope, is in our DNA, it’s in our bones, it’s in our psyche.
3,000 years after the time of Newgrange, Jesus Christ walked among us, with his message of hope, his message of light. In his resurrection he has defeated death, light has overcome the darkness! Because of that we too, his disciples, will defeat death.
This November, our remembering is especially poignant. We are experiencing a period of hardship and sacrifice due to the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to disrupt the lives of so many people.
In the midst of such a crisis we might overlook families whose loved ones have died recently from other illnesses or in tragic circumstances. Like the relatives of the victims of COVID-19 they too have been unable to engage fully in the customary rituals that normally mark the death of a loved one in this country. Restrictions have impacted on wakes, gatherings of extended family and friends at the funeral and in some cases, only a committal service attended by a small of mourners has been possible. During November we have another opportunity to acknowledge the pain and hurt that families have endured and to assure them of the consolation our prayer and our sympathy. As St Paul wrote to the Romans: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we have rightly marked the personal sacrifices of our health workers, carers and many others who provide our essential services. We also recognise the dedication and service of priests, religious and lay people who selflessly reach out to people in so many ways. Their pastoral care is bringing comfort and healing to those who are anxious because of a relative’s illness or who are feeling the loss and pain of bereavement. Their commitment and dedication is greatly appreciated.
As bishops we are dedicating this month of November as a time of remembrance and prayer for all those who have died since this time last year, whatever the cause.
May the light which spoke so powerfully to our ancestors in Newgrange 5,000 years ago, lighting up that burial chamber in the darkest moment of the year, giving them hope and encouragement, may that same light which we, as disciples, understand to be the Light of Christ encourage us in the dark moments we experience and give us the hope we all need in these difficult times.