‘ We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I know
We’ll meet again some sunny day..! ’
As I am sure you know Vera Lynn turned one hundred years old this year. She was known as the forces sweetheart and had a number of hit songs including The White Cliffs of Dover. Those of us who tend to have an allergy to all things British may have to suspend our emotion at much of what she represents. That said the reality is that through her song and music she provided hope and comfort to hundreds of thousands of women and men who were injured or imprisoned in a far off land. She is perhaps best known for the song quoted above, We’ll meet again. The sentiment of the song which as one can only imagine undoubtedly brought much comfort during the war to those at home and abroad raises a very big, though certainly not a new question. This question raises its head around this time every year for me. Winter is coming in and once again in shops and restaurants there’s a few witches, lanterns, ghouls and scary false faces appearing. For me the last days of October and the first few days of November bring my thoughts around to those who have gone before me. I am speaking of those who have died. The Dead. Our Beloved Dead. I refuse to speak of those who have passed. We pass exams. We pass wind. We pass people in the street. We pass time. To describe a person who has died, has having passed, for me is part of this mad crazy world of political correctness gone completely mad. There was a time in Ireland when we did death very well. We waked. We wailed. We walked through the pain of loss, talked, cried and laughed. We remember. We honour. We still do but there are other things creeping in which seek to anaesthetise us from the mess and pain of death. The word ‘passed’ can be part of that. It is much more healthy to quietly and gently look at the reality of death in the eye and when we do this in the company of Jesus we won’t need any anaesthetic!
Let me put the question in all its starkness. When we think of those who were significant to us, those who have loved us and those whom we have loved, all of these who have died, and here’s the question: will we really meet them again? I am deliberately parking the wider blockbusters, is there a Heaven? Is there a hell? Who goes where? Today I want to concentrate on the question of whether we will meet our loved ones again, and obviously by implication I am asking what will that meeting be like? So let’s just pause for a moment and make this question a bit more concrete: who are we talking about? Bring their face into focus and gently whisper their name. For me it’s Bridie and Joe, my parents. What about people outside family? For me the Old Canon who lived at home in our parish when I was a little boy and who lived his Priesthood in an inspirational way. What about more famous people, a figure from history. For me when I get into heaven, now I realise that sounds very presumptuous, but I believe because of the beautiful mercy of the Father I will, albeit after a stint in purgatory, get there, so when I get into heaven I am going to seek out Katharine Hepburn and definitely Thomas Merton. That is the most Oscar decorated actress and the most famous monk in the world.
Recently a lady told me that sometimes she looks forward to meeting her sister in Heaven and then other times she is not so sure because whilst they loved each other very much at times they clashed badly. This reminded me of another conversation with a gentleman who wondered about his wife’s dementia and what role that would play in their meeting up again in Heaven. In a sense then we now have two questions, will we really meet again and what will that meeting be like? The first is in a strange way easier to answer. Jesus is very clear about the Kingdom of Heaven. It breaks through here in this world when you and I live the gospel, but it also awaits us. Thy kingdom come. Clear when we reach heaven we are changed. We will become like him. Hints of the change that will happen are in the transfiguration and the resurrection stories. It is Jesus, they recognise him, yet he is different. It is interesting to note his comment to Mary Magdalene, Noli me tangere, ‘ do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father!’ The change is in process but not yet completed. So we will meet again but it will be different. No sickness, no suffering no pain and of course the great difference, we will not be bound up by sin so the meeting will take place in the new freedom that will come from being in God.