Here is (more or less) the short address I gave yesterday, Advent Sunday afternoon, at a "service of thanksgiving and remembrance for loved ones". It immediately followed a time of quiet prayer.
The Bible reading was Psalm 130.
Whether our bereavement is recent or longer ago, learning to live with the death of someone we love is hard and often very lonely. In this ‘time to remember’ I invite you to do 3 things:
- look back
- look up
- look forward.
Look back to remember.
Memory is such a precious gift. For some, the person you love, but see no longer, has left you with wonderful memories to cherish. You are grateful for who they were, the love they gave you. Some may also have painful, hurtful memories. But each person we remember today left their mark on our lives. So we honor them, by acknowledging honestly what they were and still are to us. The memories may bring smiles or tears, make us feel grateful or guilty, at peace or angry, loved or abandoned. Even all those emotions on the same day. I don't know how you feel. God knows. He loves you and the one you have lost.
As we look back to remember, let’s look up to God. Turn to God whose healing presence is with us here, now. We are looking up to God simply by being here in this service. The trouble is, when grief strikes, even a long time after a loss, God can seem far away. When someone you love dies, even if you once had faith, God can seem silent and uncaring. It may be that the only prayer you are able to pray is something like the first verse of the reading from Psalm 130:
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!”
If even that seems too hard, let your tears be your prayer and let others pray for you.
We look back to remember. We look up to God for the help we so much need. Let’s also have the courage to look forward in hope to the life we have yet to live. Today is the beginning of Advent, a season of waiting for the coming of the Lord. The Psalmist wrote:
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope”.
What are the grounds for hope for those who mourn? Hear again words from Psalm 130:
“…put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love,
and with him is full redemption”
God is love. We know this because of Jesus: who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus; who died on the cross, in darkness. God, in Jesus Christ,
“bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”.
He died to bring us back to God, so we can be healed. There is no depth of grief that he doesn't share with us. Jesus’ death left his family and friends weeping bitterly. But when Easter came - so did joy. When Jesus rose from the dead, hope was reborn. For the Christian, death isn’t the end. God is God of the living and the dead. Nothing can destroy God’s love, not even death. The great Advent hope is that at the last God will make all things new, God himself will wipe away every tear,
“death will be no more,
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”.
We can look forward in hope to life as we put our hand in the hand of God and allow him to lead us in the way of Jesus, the way to Life.
We have an opportunity in a moment to light candles as an act of remembrance.
gospel talks about light shining in darkness and the darkness being unable to overcome it. Lighting (or looking at) a candle in memory of someone we love can say, that whatever darkness we’re going through, we can dare to live with the hope that God is with us and holds our loved ones in his care. St John’s
God loves you and those whose memories you cherish today.
So may the candles be a sign:
- that you remember
- that you want to look up to God
- and you dare to look forward in hope.
Image: Creative Commons: Candle by quimby