All Saints' Day (funerals and bereavement)

01 November 2004 | Faith & Society

This reading, following Hallowe'en, continues to hold our understanding of life and death together. However it may be in heaven, death shatters our interconnectedness here. If death propels us anywhere, to human understanding that place is a void, and dark.


John Donne’s ‘No man is an island’ (1624) is captured in music and language of a different era by the American singer and songwriter Jackson Browne in his song ‘For A Dancer’ (1974). The lyrics express the interconnectedness and as well as the separatedness which define modern life and death. In hinting at the possibility, but likely unreachability, of meaning they also speak of our times.

There is nothing about our times which makes them wise times, right times. By grace we may face the beyond and say, with St Paul and without pretence:

 (Romans 8: 38-39; 1 Corinthians 15: 19)

neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord … If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christians are not called to be islands; the images Jesus used were light and salt. Even if we have that kind of faith which does not know doubt, we all love and grieve for many people whose understanding of life and death is much closer to Jackson Browne’s slightly confused, slightly contradictory song than to St Paul’s.  And that faith is also faith which, while not overcome by doubt, finds that doubt and pain have moved in with suitcases. That is the faith of the final prayer in this section.



Keep a fire burning in your eye

Pay attention to the open sky

You never know what will be coming down

I don’t remember losing track of you

You were always dancing in and out of view

I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown

Now you’re nowhere to be found


I don’t know what happens when people die

Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try

It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear

That I can’t sing

I can’t help listening


And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ‘round

Crying as they ease you down

‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away

No matter what fate chooses to play

There’s nothing you can do about it anyway


Just do the steps that you’ve been shown

By everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own

No matter how close to yours

Another’s steps have grown

In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone


Keep a fire for the human race

Let your prayers go drifting into space

You never know what will be coming down

Perhaps a better world is drawing near

And just as easily it could all disappear

Along with whatever meaning you might have found

Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around

The world keeps turning around and around

Go on and make a joyful sound


Into a dancer you have grown

From a seed somebody else has thrown

Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own

And somewhere between the time you arrive

And the time you go

May lie a reason you were alive

But you’ll never know


Jackson Browne



Almighty God

You have spun our lives like gossamer between the stars

Each strand held in your hands.

You show us that you love us

And tell us death is not the end.


But this morning

The mirror looked at my cracked face

And the cold sink winced under my raging hands

Until the plughole confessed

That my life had been poured away yesterday.


So I shan’t do astral gossamer today, if that’s all right with you.

Don’t paint Death’s face in too friendly a light

Or I might start wondering about the two of you.


But for your help

In Jesus’ name I ask.

Just a second