At Church today we had our annual Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for the Departed. There were a lot of people in attendance.It is a moving Service, and people always express their gratitude.My message today was that we should live with hope - and here is my sermon.
As many of you will know, the death of someone with whom we have been close, either through family ties, marital love and harmony, brother or sisterly bonds, or simply through friendship, the death of someone close brings with it a whole multitude and maelstrom of emotions.
There may be relief that the person is no longer suffering, if they were ill for a long time; there will be shock if it was a sudden and unexpected death; if the person was young, it can seem unutterably sad, and if they had lived a good many years – and had a good innings – somehow we always would have liked them to live that little bit longer. All of these emotions and thoughts and feelings are completely normal.
That these feelings are completely normal does not make the whole journey of grieving any less an important journey to make though. Sadness, anger, recrimination, guilt, joyful remembrance all have their place and their part as we journey towards creating a new life without the person whom we have loved and lost.
These feelings reveal a tension: we live with the sorrow that they are with us no longer, but also, hopefully, with the joy that we have known them at all, and that they live now in the presence of God.
The questions we ask about ‘where they have gone’, ‘where are they now’ are questions that have been asked through the centuries as people like you and me have sought to make sense of death, in the midst of life. Without realising, we humans do tend to live as though we are immortal!
People have asked questions about what death means for many, many years. The reading we have just heard shows us that this is so. In a Letter written to the people living in the city of Thessalonica almost two thousand years ago, not long after Jesus had died, Saint Paul writes to tell them of what he understands happens to us when we die. The souls of those who have died are ‘caught up the air’ and we, in due course will be with them. As we read: Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Somehow, God brings our souls to himself – and in doing so, we are held in the love and safety of God’s embrace.
Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians of this truth because they are unsure, they are obviously wondering what happens, just as some of us might. Paul writes to those who grieve who are in danger of having no hope, so that they might know the truth of God’s care, even unto death, and in knowing this, might have hope restored for them.
When feelings threaten to overwhelm us, it is so easy to lose hope. Grief is a hard and complex journey. It was so for those living in Thessalonica all those years ago and thus it has been for people through the years since. It is important to know that those we have loved who have died are cared for by God, and also that we will be too.
So I, with Saint Paul, invite you to live with hope. Wherever you are on your journey of loss, never lose hope. We heard in the poem an invitation to live, Think of me as withdrawn into the dimness, yours still, you mine; remember all the best of our past moments, and forget the rest; and so to where I wait, come gently on. Those we have loved wait for us. Not in limbo or oblivion, but in God’s presence, and in God’s realm, where we will journey too in our own due time. Live in hope my friends, and never fall prey to despair. Live in hope and trust of the promise of future glory for us all. Amen.