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Sermon: Holy Trinity Bramley

Sunday 2nd November 2014
Holy Trinity, Bramley

Last week my wife and I brought our children out from Guildford for a walk down the old railway track here in Bramley. It was a warm, late October day. We walked, and my daughter zig-zagged on her bicycle and the dog sniffed and ran. Leaves were falling and despite the warm temperature there was a distinctly autumnal feel in the air. It was very beautiful.

As we drove out of the car park to head back to Guildford there was quite a queue at the mini roundabout by the garage. We felt impatient. What’s the hold up? As a non-Bramley resident I wondered if it was often like this. Slowly car by car we inched forward and then at the roundabout I looked left and could see what the cause of the hold-up was. It was outside the church: there was a hearse; mourners; bearers; a priest, your Vicar Canon John; and a coffin. The traffic cleared and we drove on our way, just wondering about the family and friends and who the person might have been.

That little vignette is a parable perhaps of what we are doing here this afternoon. Life is often described in terms of a journey or a path. Day to day our journey takes us to different places and experiences, some good, some bad, we meander along, as the hymn puts it, ‘through all the changing scenes of life’. And then something can disrupt that journey. It literally knocks us off course; it changes the nature of the journey forever. It is so much more than the minor inconvenience of being a little held up that I had at the roundabout. It is devastating. Sometimes the death of loved one comes after a long period of illness, the warning signs are there for a long time; sometimes the death of a loved one is entirely unexpected and we come to a juddering halt. Either way the death of a loved one changes who we are irreversibly and changes our journey.

Death is a dreadful human reality that affects people of faith and no faith, whether rich or poor, even the young and often the old: death comes to us all. At some time our journey through life will end. And when someone we love dies death disrupts us, unsettles us, makes us sad: the death of a loved one can make us feel cheated, ‘why have you taken him, God?’; death can  even make us feel guilty, ‘if only I hadn’t been so cross with her before she died’; death can make us regretful, ‘I didn’t visit enough, say enough, love enough…’

Guilt, deprivation, regret: all of those feelings are so deeply natural and human and not to be ignored but they are to be transformed, and that journey can take different people different periods of time. So what then is there left to do? Do we get stuck? Is there no hope, ever, of continuing our journey?

Everything I have said so far could have been said in a bereavement group, and thank God for the marvellous work of bereavement counsellors like Cruse, for hospices and their ongoing support and for online support groups and indeed for the kindness of friends and neighbours. We are here though in church. What has the Good News that we claim to share have to say in a way that doesn’t sound trite or flippant?

Death comes to us all, and to those whom we love. The Good News proclaimed in the life and death of Jesus Christ is love. St Paul describes that love as never ending, unlike everything else, and says that in this life, we know only in part, but then, we will know, just as God knows us fully. It is this love that surrounds us on our journey even when we are not conscious of it, this love that leads us and follows us. Pray God that this love is reflected in those who walk the way of Jesus.

The depths of God’s love are beyond our comprehension but point us to the ultimate reality of God, so much so that the bonds of love that are forged in life are not simply shattered at death, but they are changed, transformed. We have to learn to love without the physical, bodily presence of our loved one. No more can we hold, touch, hug or kiss, and that is painful. We weep now because we love.

Being here this afternoon tells us that we do not make this journey of grief alone. It reminds us that we will have feeling’s that will be transformed and healed so that we become free to continue to receive and give love. Our loved ones are in the company of the saitns and all who have gone before us, and we are in their company too and the company of one another making our way and journey. This service expresses that. What we are about this afternoon is summed up rather well by Shakespeare in Hamlet in which Cordelia says, ‘Rosemary, that is for remembrance: pray, love, remember’.

We’re here tonight because our journeys have been marked by the death of a loved one. At this service as we light the candles, pray, love, remember. Pray for them knowing Jesus weeps with you; love them knowing the love of God in Christ for you, for them and for the each one of us; remember them knowing that whilst you cannot hold them physically you can hold the memories of them and that God holds them in his love.

Blessed are you Lord God

because through Jesus Christ you have given us

the hope of a glorious resurrection;

So that, although death comes to us all,

Yet we rejoice in the promise of eternal life;

For to your faithful people life is changed, not taken away;

And when our mortal flesh is laid aside

An everlasting dwelling place is made ready for us in heaven.