Tuesday, December 4, 2012

some final words ...

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas-tide, the time before Christmas when we celebrate anew the nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is a difficult time for funerals and bereavements … to suffer a painful loss of a loved one in what is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration makes what is never easy even more difficult to bear … and so I extend again to the family my sympathy for their loss …

On the other hand, there is another aspect to this season which may well give us reason to find such a loss more bearable … we are in the season of Advent, the time when we celebrate not only Christ's first coming, but also look forward to and begin to prepare ourselves for the time when he will come again … the time when he will come to judge the living and the dead, as we say when we rehearse the basic tenets of our faith in the Nicene Creed.

During Advent, we think not only of parties and presents and nativity scenes but also what we call the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, & hell. And one of the things that we reflect on most when we consider death is that it is not the end … for if it were, the other three of the four last things would be irrelevant: why worry about judgement, heaven, or hell if after death there is no resurrection, if death is the end of everything?

But we have Christ's reassurance that death is not the end: we heard him say this to his disciples in our reading from John's Gospel earlier. And not only that, that he himself has gone before us to the Father to prepare a place for us there. We were created to be with God for all eternity; death is the doorway through which we must step in order to achieve the purpose for which we were created.

As I never met the deceased, I can not speak with any certainty about his faith life. His family has told me that he was an intensely private person, the kind of person who would listen and observe and often say nothing … but when he did say something, he spoke his mind and what he had to say was worth listening to.

His faith was not something that he spoke about much; perhaps that is not surprising: he had known much of grief and loss in his life. He lost the love of his life, his wife, when he was still in his early 50s; and then later some years ago he faced what no parent wishes ever to have to bear when he buried one of his sons. Each person deals with grief in a different fashion. For some, they wish to speak about their faith, their hope that they will see their loved ones again openly. This was not his way. Instead he dealt with this loss in the way that was typical of him: privately and with dignity.

But not many weeks ago, as he neared the end of his own life, he had a conversation with a family member. He had not been told he was dying, but it was clear that he knew. He told them he was afraid. They said: but why be afraid? You're going to see your wife and son and all the others you loved. And he seemed to relax and said he'd really like that … that he would love that, to see them again.

The man who didn't say much, but when he did say something it was worth listening to, had spoken volumes. He had condensed the Christian hope into a few short words. He was going to the place, where in the reading from Revelation we used in the funeral home last night said, where mourning and crying would be no more, where death and pain would be no more …

This is the Christian hope. This was his hope. And so even while they mourn today, and will mourn for many days and weeks and more into the future, they may also take comfort from the fact that they may share in his hope … that he has returned to his Creator, through the grace of his Saviour, to be with those he loved … and that they too have the hope that will be with him again in the fullness of time … something I pray for: in the name of the Father, & the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(sermon notes for a parish funeral 4 December 2012)

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