• Brian Mountford

Reflection on Fauré's Requiem for All Souls

‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’ John 6.39

I don’t find this one of the clearest or most elegant verses in the gospels. But what I think it is saying is that history is moving towards a culmination, or climactic moment, when God will reconcile all things to himself. All will be complete. The Day of Judgement if you like. You might be familiar with this in the American evangelical idea of the Rapture. They believe that fairly soon the righteous will be literally scooped up "in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air’. It’s one of the reasons they are not too bothered about climate change.

I see the text more as a religious and poetic way of answering the biggest question that any of us face – what’s it all about. What does it all add up to. What is the meaning of life for Christians.

God has a purpose for us. There is a value to life which transcends, or goes beyond, the everyday ordinariness of things. Our experience is that life is full of beginnings and endings. We are born, we die, we have children, they grow up, we get a job, we retire, our holidays seem to be over in no time at all, we embark on a project and suddenly it’s behind us. But there is a meaning and value that has an eternal quality, which overarches all of that everydayness.

At this time of the year we celebrate All Saints and remember All Souls; we remember those who have died and give thanks for their lives. For many, the memory is tinged still with the sadness of mourning and perhaps some regret. But the Christian message is that whatever life throws at us there is a resurgent hope, an irrepressible energy at the heart of things.

The beautiful soprano ‘Pie Jesu’ from Fauré’s setting – popular at funerals – captures this. Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Holy Lord Jesus, give them rest.

Blessed Lord Jesus, give them eternal rest.

The music adds another dimension to the words. It lifts them from a dry prayer into something spiritually uplifting, giving them an aesthetic content that transcends words. I think that is why people are so often moved by music and come away from a concert hall or opera house or church with the feeling that they have been lifted out of themselves and have been transported to a place of vision within an extra dimension.

Finally. Speaking of beginnings and ends and the meaning of life.

God’s purpose is that his values of faith, hope, love, peace, justice, humility, and generosity of spirit should be realised in the world. It can happen now and we don’t have to wait for the last day. (Immanence and transcendence)

To continue the musical analogy: in a symphony, for example, we don’t wait for the last chord in order get pleasure and inspiration…we find it all along the way, in grand opening statements, often in a beautifully reflective slow movement, in the development of a musical idea or melody. The last chord might end with a bang. It is usually expected and anticipated but it isn’t the meaning. And the same with the Christian life. We don’t have to wait for the last day, the Kingdom of God can be among us right now. The eternal knows no time: it is now.

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