November has arrived and autumn is well and truly here, it’s colder, the leaves have turned golden brown and many are falling, the clocks have gone back, and the evenings are much darker. November is a month we begin by looking back and remembering, it starts with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, then Remembrance Sunday, and as we celebrate these occasions we look back to people who are no longer on earth with us.
On All Saints’ Day we remember and give thanks for those who kept the faith alive in sometimes terrible situations, and through their witness they carried the Christian light in their own times and communities. Despite facing all sorts of challenges, even persecution, they remained faithful to Jesus Christ. Their faith cost some of them their lives.
On All Souls’ Day we remember and give thanks for those who have gone before us, for all our family members and friends who have died, for all those who have been a part of our lives, and for all who have contributed to the life and worship of our Christian community. People perhaps whose lives have inspired and encouraged us. Each of us, I am sure, can call to mind ordinary men and women we have known personally, who have had a real impact on our own faith. I think of a housebound elderly man in a previous parish whose life, although full of physical pain, was a life of prayer. He was an inspiration to me as I became aware of his tremendous ministry of prayer, interceding for the life of the parish and for so many individuals for whom he prayed on a daily basis.
On Remembrance Sunday we remember those who gave their lives in armed conflict, protecting a way of life which we now enjoy freely and those who fought to further the cause of freedom and justice. It is important to remember and to value people both for the things they have done and the people they have been. In remembering we honour them, but the greatest honour that we can bestow on those we remember is to allow our lives to be influenced by the way they lived their lives. As we remember those who are no longer with us we honour them by seeking to live lives of peace and encouraging individuals, communities and nations to live at peace with one another. We also honour them by standing up to those who would deprive the weak and powerless of their freedom to live their own lives.
Sometimes when we are confronted by the enormity of all that needs to be done on an international, national and local level to alleviate suffering, we are tempted to give up and feel there is nothing we can do about it. That is when we need to remember the story Jesus told us about the mustard seed and how it can grow to a great tree from a tiny seed. If our faith is like that, Jesus says, we too can do great things and help to move the mountains of problems that people face.
November calls us to remember those who have gone before us, and all that God was able to do through them. But it also encourages us to do what we can to plant seeds, trusting that God will bless their growth. Sometimes, from tiny beginnings and apparently hopeless situations, impossible things happen.
The last Sunday in November this year is the Feast of Christ the King, when we celebrate Christ as King and Lord of the Universe who rules over all things in heaven and on earth. The feast of Christ the King marks the end of the Church’s liturgical year and heralds the season of Advent. So in contrast to the beginning of the month when we are looking back and remembering, the end of November calls us to look forward, to a time when God’s kingdom is fully realised and the reign of peace and justice on earth is brought into being.