Grief, funerals and hope

It goes without saying that the last year has been especially hard for all of us. However it is also fair to say that those who have lost family or friends have had additional challenges and pain associated with their loss. Not being able to comfort your own family with a hug or a kiss, not being able to be with those who are dying or ill, being unable to attend a funeral because of restrictions. All of these and so many more factors have made things hard and will continue to do so until we are able to meet together again, both with joy and with our grief. 

So I thought I would share with you the hymns and a talk I will be giving today at one of our church family’s funeral, you might find it helpful as you process your own loss. As a member of our church, Angela was a friend to many and for that reason I know it is hard that you cannot attend the funeral. So in a small way it may help to know the hymns Angela had chosen, Lord for the years and Bless the Lord (10,000 reasons) and the Bible passage she chose 1 Corinthians 13.

A short talk on 1 Corinthians 13

Have you ever looked at something without your glasses on or whilst squinting in the sun and thought that looks nice, only to put them on or come into the shade and be truly amazed. Or maybe you have looked at the artwork for a piece of music and thought I like that song, only to hear it and be swept away. In our reading we heard about the value and power of love, a word that used to be translated as charity. A concept that speaks of sacrificial love, serving and loving others, even often in hidden ways. But even if we use all the words in the dictionary to describe love they still don’t it justice do they.

So let’s take a moment to consider love together, especially as Angela choose this passage for us. It helps us to make sense of grief, which is in itself an expression of love, and yet I think Angela wanted us to consider these words so that we can do more than just consider love. As Angela knew the God who these words speak about, the God who is the source of all love, and who demonstrated his love in the most powerful and world changing way.

I think Angela’s joy and positivity came from her understanding of God’s love and kindness. A love and kindness that she not only enjoyed for herself, but that she in turn directed towards others. A love you would have known as her neighbour, friend or family member. It’s true that Angela was a gift from God and a reminder of his goodness and love to us, whether we believe in God or not.

As Christians we have a confidence like no other, summed up in the writers final words. 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

Imagine being embraced by God himself and being welcomed to an eternity in paradise. In this life it is possible to be awe struck and overwhelmed by God’s love, yet one day we will experience that love in all it’s fullness and we will know it forever.

We all experience God’s love and provision each day, yet he has also recorded his love for us in the Bible. A love letter, in which his love shines most brightly through Jesus, God himself. The God who was willing to exchange praise for poverty, adoration for rejection and honour for shame. You can see God’s love in everything that Jesus did and said, yet the ultimate demonstration of love was shown through his death. A death which was underserved and yet also only the beginning of the story, as Jesus rose to life again. Through death Jesus defeated death and paid the price for our rebellion. Or to put it another way, Jesus made a way for us to know the God we turn our backs on and chose to live against. What an amazing love, what amazing grace, that our heavenly Father was willing to give up his only Son for you and me.

When we understand and experience God’s love for us in Jesus, it is life changing. When we truly know God’s sacrificial love we are empowered to love others in new ways. Then one day we will see Jesus face to face, the source of all love and charity. A love which will blind us, overwhelm us and then we will know real beauty. Then we will see love in all it’s glory. On that day we will know for certain that greatest gift of all is love.

So just as Angela responded to God’s love and gave her life to follow Jesus, I hope we will look to him ourselves. Not only for comfort in our grief, but also that our tears of grief might be turned into tears of joy. As we are reminded or discover for the first time the love of Christ, which outstrips and overshadows even the greatest love we have ever known. Amen.

What is your only comfort in life and death?

I don’t know how you would answer such a big question personally, but more than ever we are having to live our daily lives alongside an immediate threat of death in a way that is alien to most of us. I’ve watched as the number of puppies at the school gate multiplied, as people looked for comfort, companionship and help.

When many of us are having to spend too long looking at the same four walls a different perspective can feel like a breath of fresh air. So the perspective offered here directs the responsibility away from the government and scientists and to someone who truly can save us. Having a biblical perspective on life and death, a reminder of who God is and how we can come under his wing makes a real difference.

With all of that in mind the first part of the Heidelberg catechism came to mind. The first line is immensely comforting and challenging in equal part. These truths are hard to keep front and centre at times like this, so you may want to come back to them again.

If you’ve never read it before then you’ll see it is like a collection of promises from the Bible. Truths that continue to be poured out like balm from a loving, caring, powerful, sovereign God.

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. 10

  1. 1 Cor 6:19, 20.
  2. Rom 14:7-9.
  3. 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14.
  4. 1 Pet 1:18, 19; 1 Jn 1:7; 2:2.
  5. Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14, 15; 1 Jn 3:8.
  6. Jn 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:5.
  7. Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18.
  8. Rom 8:28.
  9. Rom 8:15, 16; 2 Cor 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph 1:13, 14.
  10. Rom 8:14.

If you have been left without comfort, as the things you looked to have all but melted away, then here is something solid to replace them with. Solid joys to cling to, truths to rejoice in and reasons to praise the Lord.

Life after death

The world has come to a standstill, as we tackle Covid together. More than 1.2 million lives have been lost and 50 million more are battling the virus. We have pulled together during the first lockdown and I have no doubt that kindness and compassion will continue. That won’t stop death being a constant theme on the news or keep it from our minds. So where can we find hope at a time like this? 

The good news is that there is hope, a hope that is made all the more significant because of death. In the Bible a man named Paul who had his life transformed by meeting Jesus wrote to a group of new Christians in a place called Thessalonica. As a community they were reeling from the loss of family and friends, experiencing persecution and lockdown precisely because of their new found faith. As people were dying their thoughts turned to what happens when we die, which remains just as relevant today. 

They could have given up their faith, after all it was their faith that led the Roman authorities to persecute them. Yet despite the persecution, it turned out that they were flourishing because of the hope they had found in Jesus.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven. These people had turned from the gods of their day, gods like our own promising a better life. Today we are more comfortable worshipping materialism, individualism and comfort, but they choose to give their allegiance to Jesus! As a result they were isolated from neighbours, shunned by the community and even faced hostility from their own family. So why they would choose to live in a way that invited isolation and hostility? Why, because they had discovered the overwhelming love of Jesus. They had discovered that Jesus had died for them and given them hope that he would return. A truth which made the isolation, hostility and rejection a small price to pay compared to the hope they had found.

I wonder where you find yourself on the question of death,  a hopeless end or a hope filled beginning. Later on Paul says Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 

When we think about those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts, we may feel hopeless. It’s horrific to think that as a species we are capable of taking others lives, even innocent ones! What we believe about death makes a huge difference. So Paul says therefore encourage one another with these words because we will be with the Lord for ever. On  Remembrance day we were kept apart, but kept going by the hope that we will see each other again, be able to hug our family, hold them by the hand. Hope is a powerful thing!

Yet there is an even better hope, something much greater! The hope that Jesus who will raise us to a life that never ends, with no goodbyes, no death, no illness, no disability, no injustice. A life with no war and no isolation. That is the Christian hope, that is the hope that we have when we trust Jesus, that we will know for sure when we die.

Those who gave their lives in conflicts and wars brought us a temporary peace, they held back the ravages of war. Yet Jesus puts an end to it all, he will bring a peace that lasts forever. Not a baseless hope, but one based on a historical fact that Jesus came, he died, he rose from the dead and he offers us the same hope of life after death.

So I pray that we will take hold of a hope that cannot be taken away, a hope that no war can threaten and a hope that will outlast and outshine any other. As Paul said: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven…Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.