Preach / / Service of Remembrance / / 4th Dec 2016

Talk from our annual ‘Service of Remembrance’, for those who have lost loved ones, at TRINITY Southover, 4th Dec, based on Psalm 46:1-7


I expect many of you have read or seen the movie of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, by CS Lewis?

In it, Narnia is in permanent winter, with no sign of Christmas or Spring. The cold is ever present, snow all around, lakes frozen, and with it much joy has been sucked from their world.

I sometimes wonder if winter isn’t a good analogy for pain and grief…

I mean I wonder if you have noticed the trees lately? it was just a few weeks ago I wrote a talk whilst gazing out my window and admiring the glorious autumn colours on the large Sycamore tree outside. Now it stands rather stark and bare with all that wonderful colour blown away.

Winter can be very stark. The trees are bare, looking like a shell of what they can be.

The air is often cold and crisp – on really cold mornings even breathing in can make us wince. The nights are longer, our afternoons fading into early darkness and we tend to find ourselves more often at home, wrapped up, shut in away from the cold.


There is something in the pain of losing a loved one that I think provokes those sort of feelings and reactions in us. We are stripped bare, we are not what we once were. Things can change so dramatically in such a short space of time. There may be mornings when we wake and find that drawing breath is such an effort.

We may want to hibernate, to shut ourselves away, as if we can hide from the awful reality that has hit us.




Grief brings with it such great uncertainty. The world as we knew it, will never be quite the same and how can we face the world with our new darker view of it?

At times like these finding some truth that we can hold on to, can be really helpful, a foundation for us to stand on when we need.

Perhaps that might be in a particular memory of our loved ones that we can cherish – nothing can take that away.

Or in something we do regularly just to have a moment of control, of certainty.

And for many of us, we find certainty by looking to the truth of God.

The Psalm we heard, Psalm 46, starts with these words:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

3 truths for us to hold on to:


God is a refuge.

God is a strength.

God is an ever-present help. Words of comfort and certainty and – because of those – our Psalm goes on:


Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging


We may well feel that the earth is giving way under the weight of our grief.

We may feel surrounded by the swirling of roaring waters as our emotions rage out of control. BUT there is still that point of truth around which we can turn and perhaps sometimes it is all we can do to cling on to it.




Do you need that refuge – somewhere to hide?


Let him be that refuge.

Seek solace in him.

Psalm 91 is another that talks of God as our refuge, and verse 4 says:


He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…


What a wonderful picture – like a mother bird, drawing her young to her, protecting them, bringing them to the warmth of her own body, shielding them in their vulnerability from the outside world.

Perhaps that is where you need to be right now – just being, just being protected, being shielded form the world outside. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine yourself in that picture, under his wings…?

God is our refuge…



God is our strength too…

Or do you find yourself lacking strength to get though each day?

Pain, suffering, sorrow and loss are exhausting. Even the simplest of tasks can seem like mountains to be climbed.

Philippians 4:13 tells us

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


We need his help…

In our times of pain and weakness, God can be our strength. He longs to help us. In the Old Testament we can read of Moses, where he is facing a battle and at one point Joshua and Aaron come and hold up his arms when his strength is failing. All the while they are holding up his arms, they are winning the battle. And God can hold your arms up too.

I imagine for some of you, just coming here today might have been a huge step. If you are facing something that seems too huge, that you just don’t have the strength for, ask God for his strength – ask him to hold your arms up for you.


Jesus can be your strength.




And our third truth – Do you find yourself searching for that ever present God?


God is ever present? Sometimes that might seem laughable.

We may find ourselves questioning… wondering… not understanding

‘How could he let this happen?’

‘Why Lord?’

‘I don’t understand God…?’

And there may be no answers to those questions, there may never be, but he is always present – within what we are facing and what we are living with, of that we can be sure.

In Narnia, in the perpetual winter, there were rumours of Aslan’s return – Aslan, the lion, the king, who promised a hope for the future. ‘Aslan is on the move’ people would say. Fleeting glances were seen, snatched conversations were had amongst those who dared to hope even when they couldn’t be sure, when they couldn’t see him.


This is from the book after Aslan is mentioned…

And now a very curious thing happened… the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Just as the children experienced in the story, they didn’t see Aslan nor could they be sure that he would return, and sometimes God is like that for us. Sometimes we can feel that we just don’t know where God is, we are in that roaring water the Psalm talked of, or a stark swirling snowstorm, stuck in that perpetual winter with no Spring in sight. But perhaps, just perhaps we might see a fleeting glimpse, we might sense him with us, we might just feel a glimmer of Hope, or recognise a truth we can cling to within that.

Perhaps in a passing sense of him truly being our refuge, a feeing of safety. Or maybe an unfathomable strength in a moment we thought we couldn’t face.


Psalm 56:8 notes:


You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.


I know for myself, there is nothing God is afraid of, nothing he can’t face with us. He has been with me through illness, through pain and suffering, through dark times and sometimes his presence, fleeting as it might have been, has been the one thing that gave me the strength to keep going.

He is there in our joy and celebration, and he is there in our grief too. He knows our pain and walks with us in it.

God is an ever-present help in trouble

And my prayer is that you will recognize his presence with you as you walk through your own journey.


Guest post: Death & Resurrection

So as I head off for surgery this week here is the first of the promised guest posts looking at pain and suffering. Our first post is from Stephen Canning who asks some pertinent questions about how we deal with death…


Death and Resurrection
As a nurse I have been privileged to be with patients at the end of life. Giving compassionate care to both patient and family. No amount of training can prepare you fully for such an event. The reality of loss and the feeling of failure I experienced when patients passed on almost made me turn my back on nursing. It was only on reflection that I came to understand the importance of process rather than outcome. However good my care delivery was and however much I did everything right, some patients would not get better and go home. The reality is that some people will deteriorate and ultimately die, even with the best intervention. Rather than focus on what I still see as bad outcomes, I am able to value the process of quality care delivery which gives dignity and quality of life, even at the end of life.
Does this idea of ‘process’ rather than outcome help us as Christians?
Do we feel unable to talk about death? Does our fear of upset, for ourselves and others, silence us? As a community of faith are we creating safe enough spaces for people to be liberated by having their voice heard? The alternative is to allow people to live under an oppressed silence. Are we in the business of setting captives free? Opening a dialogue about death and dying can be both difficult and damaging. Having the correct support for both those speaking and those listening is essential. This may well be the reason that we do not talk about death and dying. Will we be brave enough to come out of our comfort zones to pray, prepare and deliver safe enough spaces?
Out of our comfort zone is where the Kingdom happens.
Does the church suffer from promoting resurrection without a real understanding of death and dying? After all Jesus would not have been able to rise again without having first died. Do we keep structures and cultures alive within the church instead of allowing them to die with dignity? If so are we actively preventing new life? Are we keeping institutions alive for the sake of the institution instead of asking questions about how we bring the Kingdom to our ever changing contexts? Let’s face it, we don’t like change. Certainly not in the church. People complain of course about the slow rate of change in the church. People complain and are met with such apathy that they fall into line, grumbling.
Are we sleep walking the church to an undignified death without
the hope of new life?
Jesus loved the world, he had a real love for humanity – a love that transcended death, even death on a cross. As Christians, we too should be Christ’s love for humanity, the hands and feet of compassion for all people. We should be living a process of compassion for the suffering and dying people of Good Friday, for the uncertain people of Holy Saturday and for the new life of Easter Sunday.
We need also to remember the grieving and lament for the family and loved ones at a time of loss. Christianity has a language of suffering that can be useful in articulating grief. Bringing compassion into this uncomfortable time can help the grieving process. Understanding that our theologies fall down and no longer provide the answers should allow us to walk with the broken while they are angry with God.
Death is a reality of life that the church needs to explore and make safe enough spaces for people to explore. This should be done with a Christ like love for people who maybe hurting and suffering loss. A love for humanity that we hope will transcend our human inadequacies.
My name is Stephen I am 35 years old and a qualified nurse. I am married to an Anglican ordinand so am a vicars wife (husband) in training. 
For previous posts on pain, see here for links.

Grief and emotion in daily life

Photo credit: Martin via Wylio

So I should probably start by saying this is not a post about death or dying (although I have just come back from a Vicar School weekend looking at this theme). It’s more some (slightly rambling) thoughts about grief and our emotions, and how we experience them through our lives, and not just when dealing with bereavement.

I learned a lot this weekend about grief and dealing with it, but what has really surprised me is that I realised I am experiencing grief for things other than death, in my life. We looked at stages of grief and it was in that I recognised some of the emotions in my life. 

We are naturally beings with emotions and feelings, and yet so often we don’t really pay attention to those feelings. It’s only when they overwhelm us and make us incapable of going about our daily lives that we really address them. The danger though is that feelings we haven’t dealt with suddenly appear and surprise us when we are least expecting it, a bit like a bird pooping on your head from a great height in the middle of the High Street when you are happily minding your own business. Which by the way, according to superstition (which I don’t really do) is lucky. Hmm seems to me like a bird crapping on your head would be distinctly unlucky, but there you go. This morning I found myself quite amazed when preparing to share something quite positive from my life and from the weekend that I was engulfed by snot and sobs. Thankfully my Vicar School mates have seen the snot thing before so it wasn’t too awkward. However I really couldn’t get a grip on myself, even having shared what I wanted, so I took some time out in the salubrious surrounding of the ladies lavs in the King Charles Hotel. I stared in the mirror, asking God in bewilderment: ‘what on earth is this about? because you’re going to a have to help me out here, I haven’t got a flippin’ clue!’

Well, turns out God does actually listen and I became aware of some deep rooted pain from a situation I thought was dealt with, emotionally dealt with that is. Turns out it’s also something that isn’t just going to go away and I think in acknowledging that pain this morning God gave me a bit of freedom to feel hurt, and angry, and let down, and to recognise the injustice of the situation. There was, and is, great freedom in that, to think, actually yes, this is all a bit pants and that’s ok.


We don’t really do emotion in this country do we? We’re all stiff upper lip, jolly good, carry on. Total stereotype I know, and things are improving, but think about it, we feel awkward with PDA (public displays of affection) don’t we? we’re all: ‘get a room’….  People who are overly emotional and can’t move on, we get fed up with, think they should be ‘over this by now’. And it’s because we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know what box to put it in, we can’t just solve it with a ‘nice cup of tea’.

I wonder how many people with long term depression or mental health issues could actually be helped by being allowed a public outlet for their emotion, rather than feeling they need to keep it in. I’ve written before about the stigma of mental illness and I think it’s part of the same thing, public emotion makes us feel awkward, we just can’t deal with it. When actually if you think about it, if you’ve been through something terrible, on whatever level, it’s quite right that you should want to scream and shout about it. In my case I tend to come home and rant at my husband about anything that has affected me, he’s the one person who hears me swear (ok someone else heard me today so almost the only person!) and I think that’s actually quite healthy – letting the emotion out that is not the swearing. It’s not big and it’s not clever… You know what it’s like when you try to cram too much into a suitcase, eventually the zip is going to burst open and all your dirty laundry will be on display and it will be when you are least prepared for it. But like that, with our past emotions & memories, better to give them a good look at every now and then and put away the ones we have done with.


Some very good friends of ours moved house a while back, moving about half an hour drive away. We went from seeing them almost every day to once every few months. I have to admit it took me some time to get used to this because I missed them terribly, we all did, kids too. I realised this weekend I had actually grieved the loss of that relationship. Of course the relationship is still there but it’s so different, vastly in fact. Of course when we get together it’s like we haven’t been apart but the being apart has been quite challenging. If only I had realised sooner that it’s actually pretty normal to grieve over loss and change. And I’m someone who actually thrives on change and new things, but this was different.


So I guess I’ve come away from this weekend realising how important it is to think things through, to recognise emotions when they come and to allow them to be worked through when and where necessary. Some things we continue to carry with us, and we learn through them, others we can put to one side once dealt with or when the time is right. But that remembering to do that is the key…