Cultural Taboos – the things nobody wants to talk about. The topics which are considered so precarious for a conversation that you wouldn’t dare bring it up, for fear somebody might be offended. Moving to this country, I was struck by how much I wasn’t supposed to mention. And I wasn’t exactly the most loud mouthed North American. Money, politics, sex, and so on. Of course when you are so hung up about not saying something, it almost certainly comes out as a Freudian slip. The classic Fawlty Towers sketch – commonly known as ‘Don’t Mention the War’ comes to mind.
When I first became a priest I realised that one of the tasks I have as a member of the clergy is to engage in those taboo subjects. Preparing couples for marriage you need to encourage them to engage in these conversations with each other, at very least. And then there is being with somebody when a loved one has died. The one thing which I would say was more taboo in North America than here was death. It’s increasingly taboo nature means that we talk about one having had a ‘loss’ or somebody ‘moving on’ or ‘passing’. Not naming the real event is an inherent way of signalling that we aren’t keen to talk about it. That we feel uncomfortable about engaging with the topic, for fear of upsetting somebody. Or reminding them of something which might make them sad.
Of course, the reality is that as mourners we cannot move on so easily. There are always things which remind us of somebody. A familiar face, a song, a poem… and sometimes it’s just in those moments when you want to share your life with that person who has died. Over time it may become less frequent, but it never goes away entirely. The rituals of the church demand that we don’t forget. Every week we remember the death and resurrection of Christ. In a world that would like to pretend we can simply cheat death, the Eucharist never lets us forget the fragile nature of our lives. The reality is that we will all die. We all suffer that separation at some point. And yet, the very act of the Eucharist denies the permanence of that death. We are reminded again and again that nothing can separate us from the love of God:- not life nor death – nothing. And in that love we find comfort in our ongoing relationship with the whole church here and gone before. Because that is the eternal kingdom.
Jesus’ resurrection changes the horizon to which we look. In the children’s book Water Bugs and Dragonflies death is compared to the experience of a young water bug who witnesses his family and friends gradually break free of the pond and disappear. He has no idea where they have gone, and promises to come back and tell his friends when he breaks free of the pond himself. Of course when he himself transforms into a dragonfly he can’t return to tell them what’s happened.
But in Christ and through his presence here with us we are all brought into communion with the whole church, alive and dead. Our eyes can see beyond our temporal horizon and begin to perceive that our lives are part of something larger than our worldly limitations. In a few moments, once we have celebrated that great heavenly banquet, we will recall all those who have gone before by naming them and by lighting candles to remember that they too are here among us now at this eternal feast.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams