Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Funeral Sermon

Sometimes in our lives,
we all have pain, we all have sorrow
But, if we are wise
we know that there's always tomorrow
These opening words from the song “Lean On Me” speak to where we find ourselves today. We come here today to lament T's death. But the odd thing, even if we may not feel it yet, is that we lament with hope. We lament a sudden, unfair, death; we rage against the cruelty and randomness of it all. But we also proclaim that there is hope, as people of faith we stare into the face of death and proclaim that life is the final victor.

There are some very hard realities we have all been forced to recognize this week. We have been forcefully reminded that life is not fair, that sometimes people die far too young, and sometimes people make choices which have disastrous consequences for others in the world around them. And, having been brought face-to-face with these realities, having no choice but to deal with them, we have to choose how we will respond.

One of our choices is to express our sorrow, our anger, and our grief. We join our voices in songs and prayers of lament. We name openly our loss, and our anger, and our confusion. We give ourselves permission to ask “WHY?” and to wonder what life will be like now. This is not only a natural choice but it is a good choice to make. It is only by expressing these feelings and asking these questions (even if the questions have no answers) that we are able to cope with them. To try and pretend they aren't there, or to try and suppress them because it doesn't feel good to express them only hurts us in the end. And so I encourage people today of all days to let the tears and anger and wondering flow through you.

Another choice is to tell stories and share memories. People here know T in different ways. He was a son, a brother, a student, a friend. Share the stories about time spent together. As we share stories we have a chance to balance the hurt and the anger over last weekend's collision with memories of happier times, possibly even bringing a smile or a chuckle to our lips. Sharing stories, keeping memories alive, helping each other to know T better – this too is a good choice to make.

There is another choice to be made. Will we lament with hope or despair? Will we choose to believe the claim that we can stare into the face of death, even unexpected, premature, tragic death, and proclaim that life still wins? It doesn't make sense after all. How can we, as I suggested earlier, lament with hope?

There is, in my mind, only one way we can lament with hope. We can only do it through faith. We can only do it by reminding ourselves of the promise we find in our faith stories, stories of people who often found reason to weep and lament and worry, but who also had hope. We only do it by reminding ourselves that we are not alone.

Every Sunday people gather together in this place to remember the story of Jesus, the one who promised his friends that there was something beyond death. At one point Jesus is talking to his friends and talks of going to prepare a place for them. Going to prepare a place means that there is a place for us. It is our promise that something lies beyond death. This is good news. Even in the face of tragedy this promise can give us hope.

Writing to the church in Rome, Paul proclaims his conviction that nothing, NOTHING can separate us from God. Nothing in life, not even death can separate us from the God who watched us grow in our mother's womb, who has shared every step, every breath of our lives. Here is more hope. If death can not separate us from God then there must be something beyond death. Something beyond the tragedy not only for T but for his friends and family who have been left to mourn his death.

“Yeah sure”, I can hear some of you saying. It's easy to talk about hope. Easy to talk about faith. Easy to talk about God. But where is God in these times? For that I return to “Lean On Me”, the chorus this time:
Lean on me, when you're not strong
I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on.
And later
we all need somebody to lean on.
In times like this God speaks these words. In times like this God is the one who helps us get up in the morning, who helps us stand up when the weight of the world crushes in on our shoulders.

The book of poetry we know as the Psalms contains much wisdom for times such as this. In Psalm 46 the poet says that God is our rock, our refuge, a help in times of trouble. Even when the earth shakes and life seems uncertain God is our rock and refuge. In Psalm 121 the poet looks up at the seemingly barren hillsides and asks “where will my help come from”. Think of that image, down at the bottom of a deep valley, surrounded by high hills that seem insurmountable. That sounds to me like a good image for the depths of grief we feel at a time like this. And the Psalmist knows that his help will come from God, that God is always there, that God is not asleep at the switch, that God “will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”

God is not there to stop the tragedy from happening, as much as we might want that. But God is there to help us climb back out of the valley. Even when the world is falling to pieces around us, God is there to help us put the pieces back into some sort of order. And this is a cause for hope.

Last weekend our community was rocked by a tragedy. 4 young men lost their lives. Another lies in a hospital bed. Another will have to live his life with the memory of what has happened. There is so much grief and hurt and anger in our city right now. SO many people asking the hard questions. So much need for healing of broken spirits. But we are not alone in our grief and anger and wondering. God is with us. God is with us in the e-mails and Facebook messages that I and many others have received from people across the province, country, and continent sharing prayers. God is with us in our midst as we gather together to share memories and share our grief. God is with us, God will be with us, as we deal with the events of last weekend. God is the one we can lean on, the one who gives us strength when we can go no further on our own. God is there to help us find the life that lies beyond death.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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