notre dame montreal

Sermon - Commemoration Service 2005

By The Reverend Charles Royden

Sermon - Rev Charles Royden
Commemoration Service St Mark’s 2005

One of the reasons why people sometimes seem unsupportive when we are suffering bereavement is that they simply do not know what to say. Friends may avoid us rather than risk saying the wrong thing.

Of course there is nothing that we usually want them to say at all.
Most of the time we know there is not some easy formula of words which when spoken will take away the intense pain of loss. Grief has no abracadabra. Usually we simply want somebody to be with us, perhaps listen to us and acknowledge that it is alright to be upset and know that we do not make them feel un comfortable.

But the fact that there is nothing we can say to take away the pain of bereavement does not mean that as Christian people there is nothing which we can say in the face of death itself.

It is true that we do not understand why a person dies. We are rightly angry when a person dies and perhaps even more angry when they die in pain or before what was expected to be the natural end of their life.

But the Christian believes that we are given by God some important information about death which can help us understand God’s position. We can never fully understand God’s position, but we can at least dispel some myths and learn some important and comforting truths.

The first thing is that when we die, God does not ‘take us.’ To say such a thing is a euphemism for God calling God a murderer. It is not God who decides when our number is up.

I am always disturbed at some of the cards sent to parents who loose children, cards which say things like ‘God wanted an angel.’

It is as if the belief is being expressed that somehow God decided to kill a child and that God is rather pleased to have acquired another angelic being.

Following the death of anybody is not a good time to get into theological discussion, but what I want to say that God is not pleased about death, not about any death and certainly God does not dispatch the grim reaper.

Rather God cries with us in our grief. God weeps with us and walks beside us at time of loss. Surely God will welcome us when we die, but God does not ‘take us’ or ‘kill us’, or decide when our time is up.

The pages of scripture are full of teaching that God despises death and the pain and suffering which it causes. The New Testament is about what God is doing to banish death once and for all. Jesus himself cried at the death of Lazarus and his immediate instinct was to raise Lazarus to life.

We do not understand how death can be a part of creation, but what is obvious from the words of Jesus is that God desperately wants to stop it. God’s plan is for life, eternal life. God does not use death as a punishment,

Death is not God’s way. God’s way is life. Eternal life.

And that brings me to say what perhaps we all need to hear after the immediate pain of bereavement has subsided. We might feel angry at God for not having done something to prevent the death of a loved one, or perhaps we are angry that God did not spare them from pain. We might just feel lonely and lost.

But as Christians we believe that God is on our side and that he has no part in wanting the death of anybody, he wants us to live for ever.

God knows the suffering that death brings,
-------in Jesus God suffered the most dreadful death.

God knows that that the good die young,
-------we worship a Jesus who was killed a young man.

God despises death and he has words of comfort to us which we need to hear.

The passage from John 3 today carries a message to us of hope in the face of death.

God loves us, and Jesus died to that we might have eternal life.

Trust in God because he does love you.

We hear a lot about love and we are right to be wary of some of the statements of love which we hear.

Sometimes people promise to love each other very often and then change their minds and say, ‘but I also love somebody else instead, perhaps accompanied by the words ‘and they need me’ as if to justify

Sometimes a marriage will be broken by one person saying ‘I love you but I am not in love with you.’ As if love was an emotion carried on a fleeting whim.

Sometimes love is just not enough, a mother or father leaves their children and goes away saying ‘mummy loves you but she has to leave you’

I have spent a great deal of time with people for whom the word love is tainted by betrayal and broken trust.

With God there is no but in his love for us. The love he has for us and for our loved ones is a love on which we can depend.

We gather here today and I can say to you that although we are parted from our loved ones, Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he loves us so much that we can guarantee that those we remember are safe.

God has unconditional love for us. When we love somebody we want that love to go on forever, that is the nature of real love. As the author of true love, God’s love is powerful, powerful even over death.

His love has no buts, and we can trust what God says because he loves even through his own death to bring us to life.

So today we gather and remember. Alongside others who remember too. For some the pain is raw and recent, for others they have had many years of knowing loss. Let each person draw comfort from knowing that God’s love is true and so all will be well, for those love and for us too.