Ready for death

Funeral sermon for Alf Bennett – date and location unknown

[The manuscript for this sermon came on two sheets held together with a paper clip. The typeface on each sheet is different, so it’s likely they were two different sermons, especially as there is a notable change in tone and style beginning at “It should be obvious…” (and also a reference to a “feast day” – All Saints’ Day, perhaps?). However the two halves share a common theme and fit well in most respects.

Apologies again for the stop-and-start nature of this blog. I was prompted to post this sermon because it is just over a year since my father died, and I was looking for something appropriate to mark the anniversary. I’m afraid I have no idea who Mr Bennett was. – SJC]

When a person dies, you experience a power, a strong and inevitable power. A power, which because it is beyond your control seems malevolent and unkind. The most obvious power is that the normal run of things gets squeezed out of shape. The worlds seems suddenly robbed of much of its colour, the old familiar sounds seem muted, and normal daily life is so much more difficult to perform.

The worst thing is the sense of loss, that life will never seem the same again – indeed it is much the poorer through the loss of the loved one. This emptiness appears never to be filed, and it is surrounded by sorrow, grief and tears, and something of a mighty anger pervades the questions – “why did it have to happen?” Of course, you know it’s bound to happen at some time to all of us, but that doesn’t help when you are going through it. So you feel vulnerable and dependent upon others for support.

The Christian faith doesn’t pretend that death is anything less than the most horrible wrench in our lives. It doesn’t buoy us up with easy hopes or slick promises. It says nothing:

neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come can separate us from the love of God which we have in Christ Jesus.

That is certainly true, but how hard it is to hold onto that when you feel so alone or unable to cope. That big empty hole is still there. The fact that you have all gathered here today marks the beginning of that hole being filled. What will you fill it with?  Your memories and experiences of Alf most of all – and how rich and varied they are. Like a necklace they compose a thousand happenings, large and small, and they have a different and special pattern for each of you. His care for others, his sense of humour, his joy in the garden, the love and support he gave to his family – all these things make up the treasure which Alf is now leaving to us.

Since we believe that through faith in Christ he is gathered up into Him, so his life is gathered into our hands to extend in his name and to use for the benefit of others. There will, of course, be changes – life is full of them, but even though they can be very painful and take a long time, because God is our God nothing can ever be lost. Through this assurance we can have the quality of joy, secretly growing in tiny amounts, but one which nobody can ever take away.

It should be obvious that there is hope in life and not merely in after death, but if we are already open to its power and possibilities, then we are also ready for death. We live now from hour to hour as those who are ever receiving from the unknown and “taking no anxious thought of the morrow.” Such confidence does not lend itself to rational enquiry, but nevertheless it is not diminished thereby.

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, in the eyes of the unwise they seem to die, but they are in peace…

This is the core of our belief which underlies this feast day. It is affirmed again and again in the Apostles’ Creed:

We believe in the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life eternal…

and the key to this is love. Love eternal, love unending, love unbroken by death, or despair, or the seeming impossibility of it all.

Many waters cannot quench love, for love is stronger than death.

We pray with those who have died, and they pray with us, upon a further shore and in a greater light, until we renew the fellowship of sight and hand.

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