Tuesday 31 October 2023

Alone and together in grief

Wisdom 3.1-9; Luke 24.13-16, 28-35



Over recent weeks I have been struck more than ever about the nature of grief and how different people and different communities and cultures deal with grief.


With our Bible readings this evening we can reflect on the personal and the shared nature of grief and bereavement.


I have been pondering how some people who are bereaved want to keep themselves to themselves; others need to gather people around them.


Some people want to steer well clear of a bereaved person and comfort themselves by saying grief is private and they don’t want to intrude.


Others, possibly out of their own needs, almost smother the bereaved with attention and don’t give space for grief and sadness.


Some grieving people don’t want the name of their loved one mentioned such is the pain, and others feel the inability of others to speak the name of the beloved more painful.


I think we can conclude that grief and bereavement is a complex business, because we human beings, in our living and loving, are complex too.


Perhaps you recognise something in what I have just been describing.


Anything I have just said could be said by any bereavement counsellor or close observer of human nature.


So what might the Church have to say about the subject of grief and bereavement?


I want to suggest that what we find throughout the Bible, and in the teaching and practice of the Church, is both reality about the pain and sadness of grief because of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, that is to say that he shared our human experience as one of us, and also the conviction of hope and purpose rooted in the resurrection of Christ, that he was raised from the dead, thus meaning that death can have no enduring grip on us.


So what this service of remembering our loved ones, in a service of hope and prayer, is recognising is both the pain of loss and the hope of looking forward.


Our first reading speaks of the conviction that those who have died are not abandoned into nothingness, but rest in the hands of God.


Their identity and personality, that was given to them before they were formed in their mother’s womb, is nurtured and sealed in God’s enduring love and presence.

Our second reading is more nuanced.


It speaks of two disciples of Jesus whose hearts are weighed down, drained out with grief, sadness and disappointment.


Yet their hearts are renewed and ‘set on fire’, as they put it, when they come to understand precisely the power and presence of Jesus Christ with them in their grief.


It is telling that there were two of them; there is nothing more painful than grief combined with loneliness, and nothing more comforting than knowing that you are not on this journey alone.


In this service we are able both to grieve quietly and personally, as we will enact in the lighting of individual candles, but also we come together to say that grief is a common experience, in the sense that, first, it is not rare and, second, it is a shared experience, one we have in common.


We will see that in the flames of the candles burning together.


‘No one’ the great priest and poet John Donne reminds us ‘is an lsland entire of itself’.

And he continues:


every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…

any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

(MEDITATION XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)


There is a close fellowship in life and death and grief.


The bonds of love forged in life are not broken by death, for love endures all things.


As we remember our loved ones in hope and prayer may they remain in our memories and hearts as we continue to entrust them into the loving hands of God who promises, through his Son, Jesus Christ, abundance of life today and in the life of the world to come.

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