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?’
‘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.