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.

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The Transfiguration

Sermon preached at the Eucharist, Christ the Servant, Stockwood, Bristol, 1 April 1972

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. […] Meanwhile, where is God? When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing him, if you remember yourself and turn to him in gratitude and praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double-bolting inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away…

That’s from the beginning of a book on grief written by C. S. Lewis after his wife died. It’s terribly final, isn’t it? Life comes suddenly to a full stop and people are no more. I find this coming home very forceable if I have to take a series of funerals in a week. A procession of people in sorrow; each one different and intimate, a family drawing closer together, pale and tear-locked faces; each one facing that peculiar barrier of death.Read More »

Death

Sermon preached at Evensong, St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, 30 April 1972 (and again, presumably with revisions, in Stockwood, Bristol, on 4 March 1973)

Last week, as most of you will know by now, my father died. He has been ill for a time on and off but, as many have said, it was still a shock “when the end came.” Well, I think I have got over some of the shock now; and I have been able to think about what has happened, what I believe as a struggling Christian about death, and the soul, and the eternal love and mercy of God.

It’s true; grief is a feeling very much like fear. The tightness in the throat, the need to keep taking deep breaths, the steeling of nerves, the empty, hollow feeling in your stomach.

Then there’s the sense of guilt, of feeling you could have done more, the trying to feel brave, then the irritation when people sympathise, or when they stay away – “what’s the matter, don’t they care, can’t you see I’m grieving?”

This terrible feeling of being exposed, pushed out in front, the old supports and protection gone. Life will never be the same. That’s true… but is it necessarily bad?Read More »