The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
I do not know if Eric Milner-White wrote the words himself, or adapted them from a similar service first authorized at Truro in 1880. Whatever their provenance, the last full paragraph of the bidding in A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols says:
“Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are for ever one.”
“…upon another shore and in a greater light…” Dear God, that’s beautiful. These are words of affectionate, generous breadth; they’re spoken in a distinctly Anglican voice, filled with remembrance and hope.
One of the expected features of the Christmas holiday, or any holiday for that matter, is missing our beloved dead. The first year after a loved one’s death brings every possible opportunity for renewed grief as we cycle that first year without them. The feast finds many images in our memory and imagination, but perhaps chief among them are the faces and voices of those whom we love. To be sure, the day is always kept for itself, but over time it is kept as well for the glad company that shares the feast with us. So when those faces and voices are absent, the feast is a bit more solemn. Some cultures try clinging to their missing friends and kin by setting a place for them at table, or leaving a poured drink for them upon the sideboard; these are signs filled with rich sentiment, and though well-meant, they perpetuate anguish precisely to the same degree they strengthen our remembered loyalties and affection.
As I contemplate those whom I love upon another shore and in a greater light, I pause and reflect, feeling the ache of their absences, whether recent or long-standing. Grief and longing becomes more manageable over time but I am not sure it ever goes away. Such is the nature of finite life, bounded as we are with flesh and a few years. And as evocative as I find another shore and in a greater light, it is elsewhere in the bidding that I find my greatest Christmas joy.
The bidding affirms that they “…rejoice with us…” and with them “…in the Lord Jesus we are forever one.” That anchors and confirms my Incarnate joy and my Easter hope far more than my loss or sadness. So long as I have my mind and memory, and after that, when my mind is gone and all that is left is a heart habituated in love, “…in the Lord Jesus we are forever one.” Amen.
Even if from their perspective we are upon another shore and in a dimmer light, they do rejoice with us and it is in our shared rejoicing that we are forever one. Miss them. Sniffle and get quiet for a bit as you need to do, and then celebrate. Celebrate not wanting them at your party, but in the hope of being at their’s.
Love you. See you in Church.