By the time you read this it will be around Easter and I unashamedly intend to address that in this letter.
During Lent we had a sudden flurry of funerals. Very often at a funeral a poem entitled “Death Is Nothing At All” by Canon Henry Scott Holland, is requested. It has never been one of my personal choices because, if you think about it, far from being ‘nothing at all’, the separation and pain of death seems to me to be quite a big deal. How can it be nothing at all, it hurts too much? Having been requested again I decided to look a bit deeper at the reason for Scott’s writing of it. The poem was first written for and read at a sermon that Scott Holland gave in St Paul’s Cathedral on 15th May 1910 following the death of King Edward VII as his body lay in state. In many ways it was an Easter sermon.
As he considers what a lifeless body consists of, he says that everything we knew about that person is still true. None of it has gone away. “It is not death” he writes, “nobody is dead, it would be too ludicrous to suppose it. What has death to do with us? How can we die? Everything we cared for and loved exists. Physical death has no meaning, no relation to it.” He then goes on to say that what mattered was the “life with its moral quality, personal characteristics, its intense and vivid charm, its individual experiences, its personal story; the tone of its voice, the pressure of its presence felt as surely now as once through eye and hand; the tenderness, the beauty, the force of the living will - its faults, and its struggles, and its victories, and its maturity, and its quivering affection. What has death to do with these? They are our undying possession”.
However, Scott Holland doesn’t stop there at the real but nevertheless emotional aspects of relationships. He bases what he says in something deeper. In a nutshell he makes this point: that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus and, since through his death and resurrection, death itself has been defeated and, since through faith in Jesus we have become sons and daughters of God, we have already moved from darkness to light. “Already we are in Jesus: already we are of his body; already we live by his light and taste his pardon and his peace. The Jesus who we see and know now, is the Jesus whom we shall still see and know then … In the power of the Spirit we are already passed from death to life. Death is behind us, not in front”.
Scott Holland is not saying that the pain we feel at parting is inconsequential. It is not. Instead he is identifying where our hope as followers of Jesus is. Namely that in the cold light of day death itself is no longer of consequence to those who put their faith in Jesus. By faith in Jesus we are rescued from darkness to light, from hopelessness and despair to life in his presence forever. That is what we celebrate at Easter, that is what we should shout from the rooftops. The key to accessing this amazing grace is simply to say “yes” to Jesus’ call to follow him.
You are invited to join us in celebrating God’s victory over death in our Easter services. Please call me if I can help further or pray with you.
Every blessing in Christ
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The complete version of Scott Holland’s the poem can be found at the link below.