This is a copy of my sermon for our annual Memorial Service at Christ Church, Billericay on All Saints Day, Sunday 3 November 2019. Bible Readings were 2 Samuel 1:1-4; 11-12 & John 11:32 – 36.
I’m very aware that attending a Memorial Service is never easy because of the grief that surrounds each of us. The names of my friends and family have been read out too. The pain of bereavement affects us every day of our lives. And it seems to me, no matter how hard we try, can’t seem to be able to get away from it. There’s always some tragedy on the news that sparks our memories. Grief seems to surround us on all sides doesn’t it?
Is it Right to Grieve?
But grief is a natural human response to bereavement. And, despite what some people may suggest, there’s no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to dealing with the loss of a loved one. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. For many of us, it’s a long-term process. Some continue to live with shock, anger, frustration and bitterness, some lose the ability to make decisions, some experience the loss of a will to live and others seem to continue with life as normal. Grief is personal and unique to every one of us.
This afternoon I want to spend some time comparing the way David and Jesus responded to the death of a loved one and to see what lessons we can draw from their experiences. David is remembered at the greatest King of Israel and the writer of many of the Psalms. Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, whom David wrote so much about.
David lost Jonathan, his best friend, in battle. A friend who was a soul mate, a kindred spirit, a friend whom God had provided. Jesus lost his dear friend Lazarus who, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, often provided him with a place to rest as he went about his ministry. Yet David, who was known as having a heart after God’s own heart and Jesus, the Son of God, experienced grief every bit as real as yours and mine.
Responding to Grief
David recognised the torn clothes and dust on the messenger’s head, vs2, as signs of sorrow and mourning. The tearing of his own clothes, vs11, was a symbolic, public, act to demonstrate his own sorrow and mourning –
an act that was understood by everyone. It wasn’t considered a sign of weakness for David to respond in this way and nobody was embarrassed by what he did. In fact, the whole camp, 600 men, shared David’s grief and sadness by tearing their own clothes and mourning with him. Sharing the grief of others, in a way which is sensitive and honest, is such a great source of comfort and strength.
The cultural context of bereavement in the Middle East allowed David to know the comfort of those around him. Sometimes, the uninhibited nature of Middle Eastern tradition may seem a bit extreme to us, however, our response to grief, as ‘stiff upper lip British’ as it sometimes seems to be, isn’t always the best way to deal with our grief and pain.
Expressions of Grief
David wasn’t ashamed to be seen crying in front of his soldiers, vs12, and neither was Jesus in front of his friends. John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, tells us that: Jesus wept.
Jesus was weeping because he shared their heartache. Jesus was fully human and the son of God, yet he still experienced the full range of human emotions. He was weeping in sorrow at the sense of desolation and loss that death brings. He was weeping out of empathy and sympathy for his friends. Jesus shared in our weaknesses; vulnerabilities; joy; love; sorrow; he understands how we feel.
One of the most amazing confessions that Jesus ever gave was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was arrested (and subsequently Crucified). Here, Jesus confided to his disciples (Mark 14:34): My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death. It wasn’t because he was afraid of dying that Jesus felt this way, but because he knew he was going to be separated from God the Father on the cross.
I’m sure most of us have felt overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death through the separation from our loved ones we’ve experienced. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t relate to a Jesus who couldn’t share my grief. A Jesus who never wept could ever wipe away my tears.
David used his time of mourning to express something of his feelings and wrote The Lament of the Bow in vs19-27. David wanted it to be sung and taught to future generations as a memorial to Jonathan and his father Saul. In the same way, we don’t have to stop loving or talking about someone just because they have passed away.
We can reminisce about their quirks of personality and achievements with tears and laughter. We could write poetry like David or write a journal with our memories. We could draw pictures, look at photographs, watch videos – it could be one of a dozen different things that help to capture our memories. We can learn to live with our grief.
I remember watching the news after the London bombings and hearing of a man, whose son had died, constantly ringing up his son’s answer phone just to hear his voice. A similar story is told of relatives whose loved ones died in 9/11. In many ways, your being here this afternoon is an active way of keeping the memory of your loved ones alive.
I find it very interesting there is no mention of God in David’s The Lament of the Bow in vs19-27. You can read it when you get home! I say this because I think this reassures us, in some small way, that feeling God to be absent during the hard and difficult times in our lives is not unusual or even unchristian. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget God’s love when we are grieving. But God’s love for us doesn’t change, or go away, just because we feel angry and frustrated – it’s always there. Nothing you or I could ever do could cause Him to love us any more or any less that he does. I find that wonderfully reassuring.
In Closing …
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it takes time to want to start living again after a period of grieving. I also know it’s not easy but what sometimes helps is a renewed sense of hope and purpose for the future – which isn’t always easy to come by.
As Christians we believe that, in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we have a shared victory over the grave and, in the words of the funeral service, gives us: renewed strength … and, in the grief of separation give(s) us hope and faith as we put our whole trust and confidence in Him. Although we may never lose that sense of loss and separation from our loved ones, belief and trust in Jesus gives us lasting hope in death, light in darkness and comfort in our sorrow.
These sentiments are expressed in that most well known of all Psalms, Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale, yet will I fear no ill; for thou art with me, and thy rod and staff me comfort still.
David and Jesus were prepared to acknowledge the anguish they suffered and weren’t afraid of letting others know how they felt. They didn’t hold back and put on a brave face, they mourned and wept openly and show us that it’s perfectly natural to grieve the death of someone we love. They show us that grieving is to be experienced rather than ignored and, perhaps most importantly, they show us it’s something we can/should share with others.
For many of us, bereavement causes us to become more aware of the things of God and, as we do so, one area that is so often underestimated is the area of prayer. But prayer, in these sorts of situations, is something that many find to be a real source of comfort and strength. I’ve prayed with many of you. Sometimes we say prayer is the least we can do, but it’s the most we can do. God knows the thoughts of our hearts, he knows our emotions, and he knows the depth of our grief and pain – why not tell him how we feel?
In a few moments we’re going to sing that wonderful hymn: What a friend we have in Jesus. The writer of this hymn, Joseph Scriven, wrote this as a response to a crisis of faith after enduring the agony of his first fiancé dying from TB and his second fiancé drowning on the eve of their wedding day. Joseph Scriven knew what it meant to be: Weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care.’
However, despite all the pain and agony he was experiencing, Joseph Scriven knew that Jesus understood how he was feeling and that he could bring to him, his: Sins and grief’s to bear. He knew, through personal experience, the reality of the: privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
And Finally …
Is your soul overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death? Take it to the Lord in prayer! Do you find it difficult to come to terms with the bereavement that has turned your world upside down? Take it to the Lord in prayer and as Joseph Scriven concluded: in His arms he’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.