On Sunday 7th June, I was invited to preach at the Memorial Service held at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. This service was designed for people who have lost a loved one to come together for a period of reflection and remember their loved ones before God.
Romans 8: 31 – 35, 37 – 39
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We all come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences and yet we all have something in common. We have all suffered the loss of someone we have loved.
For some the loss was many years ago but they still feel it as a dull heartache. Maybe we don’t think about that person very often but when we do it aches like an old injury aches on a cold wet winter day.
For others the lose is recent and it really hurts. Time hasn’t started to take away the rawness of it all.
We could have been sat at a bedside for days watching our loved one slip away, or like Gaynor and myself, the first we knew of the death of her mother was the knock on the door at three in the morning with two police officers tasked with the job of breaking bad news to us.
Grief and bereavement can be like an earthquake in our lives. I don’t mean the relatively minor quake we had in this area a few weeks ago but the cataclysmic quake that recently happened in Nepal.
Our world is shaken. All that seemed certain and permanent in our lives comes tumbling down.
Life’s landscape changes for ever. Our plans, hopes, aspirations and dreams disappear.
In the twinkling of an eye all is changed.
And just as earthquakes have aftershocks or further quakes to cause more problems so do we in our grief. For us it could be all the problems of continuing life, particularly if your partner was the one who paid the bills and sorted the family finances or was the one who did the cooking and washing and running the house.
We try to make contact to reach out to those on the outside. Some turn away, cross the road to avoid us, not sure what to say and perhaps afraid to cause even more upset. They dare not ask “How are you?” in case we tell them the truth and they won’t be able to handle it.
Just as people who have survived an earthquake can be isolated and cut off, so can we by grief.
A while ago I was talking to a young lady whose dad had just died. She just couldn’t take it in that the rest of the world continued with business as usual. “Don’t they know my dad has died?” she asked me.
She was echoing some thoughts in the Bible said to be written by Jeremiah some 2600 years ago: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around you and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me?”
Over the weekend I found the following article “Can life return to normal after the death of a spouse?” in the BBC Magazine dated 4th June 2015. You can read the full article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33003764
Sheryl Sandberg the Chief operating Officer of Facebook spoke about the death of her husband. When she went back to work she observed “Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why – they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say?”
Also Sandberg wrote “ “One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing.”
Another person quoted in the article spoke of how when he was bereaved took time off work to care for his young child. He said “One chap said to me, ‘This is something you’re going to have to live with now and get on with your life,’ which is an easy thing to say… I was actually told that my situation wasn’t as important as the shareholders I work for.”
Sometimes we are suddenly reminded of our loved ones and that can happen in a variety of ways. A favourite tune you hear, or someone stops you in the street and in all innocence asks after your loved one, not knowing they have gone. Even going through old photos can trigger it off.
People say to me that they were unprepared for this death. But to be honest we can never be prepared for the death of someone who is significant in our lives. We may think we know how we will be as we have been told to expect the worse. But when it happens it can be so very different to how we think it will be.
Often when we lose someone we love dearly we can feel very far from God, as if we are in this on our own.
Maybe we feel guilty and have that nagging feeling we should have done more. Or we get an attack of the “if only’s”: “If only I’d phoned for an ambulance,”“ if only I had called round to see her that morning”. But Paul the apostle who wrote the passage we heard a few minutes ago is keen to put the matter straight.
We are assured that if we put our trust in Jesus, then no one can condemn us or make us feel guilty. And equally important is the fact that once you have put your trust in God through accepting Jesus as your saviour, no one and nothing can tear you away from God.
Paul even gives us a long list of things that could try to come between us and God. Even death, our own or that of a loved one, can’t separate us from God.
Our faith may well be shaken and we feel far from God. Indeed we could be so numb with grief we wonder if God is there and if he is there does he care about me and what’s happening.
Yes God does care. All through the bible are the promises that he has made to generations of people who have put their faith in him. These promises are for all who trust in Jesus Christ regardless of status, intellect, or any other manmade division and category.
You just have to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. As someone once wrote “you don’t have to have a great faith in God, you have to have faith in a Great God”. In fact Jesus once said that you just needed faith the size of a mustard seed – that’s about the size of a pen dot on a page – to see great things happen.
So today even if you feel far from God and you feel you are hanging on by your finger tips, remember that absolutely nothing in all creation can ever separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ.