This afternoon we held our annual Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for the Departed. As usual it was a very moving affair. About 100 people in attendance and lots of very good feedback. One person commented how life was still hard since their bereavement, but services and occasions such as today made a real difference. Nice. Thanks be to God for he is good!
Below is the text for my sermon. The ending is missing, but you get a sense of where things are going. I am indebted to ideas from elsewhere for some of it. I also enclose some photos...
(Based on Ps. 139:1-18 and John 14:1-6)
As bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, as the Psalmist wrote, a perfect Father, a God who knows us, understands us, sees us and is all around us on every side and who protects us with His power. What about the loved ones we remember today, we might ask? How was they protected?
The Psalmist continues: Your knowledge, of them and each one of us, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.Our loved ones, I believe are in God’s presence. They are still, and now completely, unassailably, protected with God’s power. They are out of harm’s way.
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created every part of each of the people we come treasuring today. He put them together, them him before they was born, knew them, understood them, watched them all through their life, surrounded them (as he does all of us) on every side, protecting them (as he does us, if we wish it) with His power. That’s all good. But it had to end. There was suffering and death.
O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don’t understand all of them. We don’t agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can’t fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away, “beyond the east” cries the Psalmist, or to “the farthest place in the west.” We’d like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, the Psalmist says, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.
Think of it: when those whom we remember today went to sleep sick, tired, weakened and when they awoke, an instant after, they were still, and even more wonderfully so, with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven. But still it hurts.
“Don’t be worried and upset,” says Jesus in our Gospel passage. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for every one of you (if you want one). I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” Jesus mets each of us and takes him to Himself so we will be, with our loved ones, where Jesus is.
How can we know this? Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.” If we believe in God and in Jesus, and in so doing, we make and confirmed our reservation.
Those whom we remember today are fine. They each, by faith in God, have a room that Jesus picked out and prepared for them in his Father’s house. By faith, they are with Jesus in paradise. All their problems are solved and all their questions answered.
What about us who remain? How do we honour their memory? We’re upset and in pain. Things are feeling dark some days, maybe today, perhaps every day.
First, know that the darkest darkness is not dark for God. All He does, as the Psalmist wrote, is strange and wonderful. Despite the darkness of our loss, having those whom we love but see no longer in our lives for a time was wonderful. We can be thankful and enjoy that. God has not abandoned us.
Second, Jesus puts it quite simply: “Believe in God and believe also in me.” Believe what? That Jesus is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose from the dead, thereby securing one of those rooms He went on ahead to prepare one for each of us who would like to join him there.
Third, since the rooms are not an automatic entitlement, we must confirm the reservation. How? Well, to believe in Jesus is to follow Him—to do our best to live our lives the way He lived His and taught us to live ours. What’s the best environment in which to do that? As a member of His body of believers, the Church. That involves this book, the Bible, prayer, worship, sharing our money, serving others—it can be messy—the church of Jesus is not perfect yet—but it contains people loveable people. Kind people. Good dancers, who laugh and enjoy life and with whom you can hang out and with whom you can go out to dinner from time to time...
For us who remain, deciding to believe in Jesus and acting on it is not only the best way to get through our grief, but I suggest it is also the best way to honour those whom we come remembering today. For faith in Jesus assures of a life then with God for all eternity and with those whom we love.
But faith in Jesus Christ also assures us of a life now with God too, as Jesus reminds us that he is the way - God’s way leading us through life; Jesus reminds us that he is the truth - what he tells us about God we can take as true; Jesus reminds us that he is the life - a life in the now filled with peace and love and that a certainty that death is not the end. but a return to the loving arms of the God who created each one of us...