Summary: This is a sermon written for a Memorial service for a local hospice, to which are invited relatives of those who have died in the last couple of months
A little over halfway through the Old Testament part of the Bible, is a relatively short and probably little read book called Ecclesiastes. There are some mysteries about this book: we don’t exactly who wrote it, although tradition tells us that the writer was King Solomon, the son of David.
The complex theological and philosophical reflection in this book is one of the deepest insights into human life, not only in the Bible, but anywhere in literature or history. Perhaps the best know section of the book reflects on the variety of life and how different emotions and events occur throughout our lives, over which we have little or not control.
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.
We are here today, joined together in the common bond of grief to remember those for whom it was their time. In many ways the hardest part of grief, is the remembering of those who are gone from us, yet today we gather specifically to remember our loved ones, whether family of friend, neighbour or colleague.
None of us here today is alone. That statement may bring particular comfort to any who have come here today on their own. Although we grieve for different people, our grief is shared. A Honduran proverb says, ‘Grief shared is half grief.’
The time of grief and mourning can be an uncertain time, both in terms of its longevity and also in knowing how we or others will react. C.S. Lewis observed after the death of his wife that he was resentful if people asked him how he was as he often wanted to be alone in his thoughts and didn’t know how to even begin to answer the question, but he was just as resentful when people didn’t ask after him, observing that "no one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear."
Grief is, in one way, a costly consequence of love. The writer, Hilary Stanton Zunin observes that “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief”. We grieve because we feel the pain of loss, but we also grieve because of the strength of our love for the person that we have come here to remember today. That love continues and grief does not diminish it and often in the early months after death we feel that love even stronger than we did before. The only way we can avoid the pain of grief is by also avoiding the joy of love. The German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm noted that “to spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness”
And so, what brings us here ultimately today is not grief, but love – love for the person that has died, love that carries on in spite of their death, love that will carry on.
With love there is always hope, and the greatest love is the love of God for us. A love that never diminishes and never dies because it is a love of the Creator for his created children. In the words of our reading from John’s gospel we see the hope that can grow out of love. We see Jesus explaining to his disciples, even though they don’t yet understand, that he must go away from them, that he must die, so that his work can be finished and so that the place can be prepared ahead for them in heaven.
Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, was always the disciple who was willing to ask the brave questions that the other disciples perhaps though foolish to ask. After hearing Jesus’ explain that he was going away and that they know the way, Thomas is willing to admit his ignorance and say, ‘I don’t know the way, but how can I know?’ Jesus’ answer is simple yet profound, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ – The hope for the future.
The best answers to the big questions of life and death are to be found in the God who created us, the God who came to earth as Jesus to show us the way to return to him again, the God who goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us in eternity with him if we will but acknowledge his presence and his glory.
Today we are not alone. We meet together to share our grief, to share our love for those we have gathered together to remember, but we are here also in this building, this special holy place, a symbol of God’s love for each one of us, here or absent, a symbol of God’s desire to be deeply involved in each one of our lives.