The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Memorial and Bereavement Service      3rd November 2019
Remembering and Hope
Jeremy Fletcher

Isaiah 40. 27 - 31

Revelation 19. 6 - 10

You gather this afternoon, in this season of remembering, remembering loved ones who have died in the least year, or many years past.  Those whose bereavements are recent will have experienced the changes in your emotions which are devastating and frightening, but which you will know are a pattern known by others too. Perhaps you have come to feel that the period after the busyness of the funeral is in some ways worse than the initial shock of the death, and that can be compounded by people expecting you somehow to ‘get over it’. 

All of you will have had to develop new routines – you may have been caring for someone night and day and there is a gap in your lives now – and you will all have been taken by surprise at some point by an overwhelming emotion when you were least expecting it, triggered perhaps by a date, a smell, a familiar looking person, a tv programme, a piece of music. 

As you remember your loved ones, you may well have been looking at the messages of sympathy, the cards you received. One begins `Death is nothing at all'. Another one ends ‘I am not there, I did not die’.  In many ways it is right to continue to remember our loved ones as if they were here, in our familiar objects and patterns and in the beauty of nature. To bury the memory of someone we have lost is not helpful. Hence the reading of names tonight, in an atmosphere of love and hope.

But in another way those sentiments are completely wrong. Death is not nothing. It is something, something devastating and world shattering. They have not `slipped away into the next room'. They have gone, and we will not see them again in our lifetime. Our loved ones did die. The reality of the finality of death is something which hits us all, particularly those for whom this is all too close this year. It hurts.

Weeks, months, years, after the awful reality of the death of a loved one, what is there to say? The Bible is clear that, devastating as it is, death is not ultimately to be feared, not something we should be defeated by. Death is, according to the New Testament, a source of hope. 

Take that amazing picture from the book Revelation. It contains the great Christian hope of the banquet shared by the redeemed.  Later Revelation promises is that there will be ‘no more death’, that God will ‘wipe away all our tears’. There are tears because death is awful for those of us who continue to live. There is hope for us because the death and new life of Jesus is a cast iron promise that our dying is not the end, that death itself will be defeated, and that through the gate of death life will open up for ever, in a new heaven and new earth. Through death there will be rest with God, and resurrection to eternal life. 

Two things follow from this, for me. Firstly it enables me to put the lives of those we have lost into some kind of context. I wonder if you, like me, learned something new about your loved one as people told their stories about them before and after the funeral? I have continued to learn, and to tell, the story of my mother’s life, in the eighteen years since she died. It would have been her 83rd birthday at the end of the month. Though her earthly life has ended, her continuing rest with God and the hope of our resurrection enables me to remember her with thanksgiving and to reflect still on all she gave me. 

Secondly, in remembering my loved ones, I know I have a future, even beyond my own death, and that inspires me to live better now. The death of those close to me has enabled me to work out what’s important and what’s not, has given me perspective. Perhaps you have become impatient with people who worry about trivial things: the end of an earthly life reveals what is important, and the promise of a heavenly life gives us a reason to be. Isaiah the prophet looked at a weary and grieving people and promised them that, broken though they were, they would rise up on wings like eagles. There is a life to be lived, and God will give strength to the weary.

At many funerals a passage is read from John chapter 14. Jesus tells his disciples that they know where he is going: through death and into new life. When Thomas challenged Jesus: “we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Jesus didn’t map out the destination, except to say that God had room for all – many rooms in fact. No, he simply said that, though Jesus, we would know the way, the truth and the life. 

At all the funerals I conduct I hold on to that hope: that we need not let our hearts be troubled because Jesus will show the way, be the way, through death to life. To know that, to have that hope, does not take away the pain of bereavement, and nor should it, because as you have loved, so you will grieve. But to know the presence of Jesus will give a reason to live well now, and a comfort that the one who will lead you is the one who himself grieved and shared all our humanity.

In your many needs today may Jesus meet you, comfort you, strengthen you, and lead you to glory. Amen.

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