‘What now?’ – 5th November, All Soul’s Memorial Service

Based around 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 6: 37-40.

We are here tonight because of our individual experience of loss, it’s the reason that has brought us together. We want to remember our loved ones who we have lost, in a special way. Of course we remember them in our own hearts in private or among our families & friends much of the time but in a way a service like this helps us to mark their lives and their passing in a more formal, more public way and perhaps by doing this in church we feel that we can draw closer to God & hold our loved ones before him in prayer. It also gives us a space where we can be open about our feelings of loss and hurt and sadness without feeling that we have to put on a brave face for the sake of others. It’s ok to feel miserable, it’s ok to cry.

Sadly the older we get the more likely we are to experience the loss of people we care about. It’s hard enough when those people are very old and have had a good life but even harder when a death is untimely or through illness or is sudden when we were unprepared and feel cheated out of the time we thought we’d have together or of the chance to say goodbye. This can leave us feeling pretty raw and unfortunately there is no set formula or ritual or time to get over our grief. Each loss is unique because we are all unique and the relationships we have with one another are unique. What we feel and how we deal with loss is personal to us, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. That said though, it isn’t good to shut others out totally or hide away for too long for their sake or our own.

I’m at the stage in life where I have already been to too many funerals, family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues, all people who one way or another mattered to me a great deal and some I loved very dearly. The losses I feel most keenly include people from opposite ends of the age spectrum, my little first granddaughter, Lucy, who I never had the pleasure of getting to know, three friends who died way before they should have done and my wonderful dad who I had known & loved my whole life. Ten years on I still miss him very much and often wish I could ask his advice or share my thoughts and ideas with him because he of all people would understand me.

All those we lose leave a gap in our lives that can never truly be filled and we can feel that loss very keenly for a long time. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever be able to cope with it, but cope we must.

Only a few days ago Ann, one of my sister’s friends attended the funeral of her first  granddaughter, Cali Jane, who died at just a few months old after spending much of that time in a specialist hospital. After Ann came out from the service my sister said she looked utterly heartbroken and distraught and said “what now?” It’s the awful question that faces us all. Its two little words that express so much. What do we do when all the formalities are completed and we are left alone with our thoughts and feelings still raw, like open wounds that won’t stop hurting?

One of the changes that I think helps us in more recent times is how we say goodbye to our loved ones. When I was little funerals were almost always sombre, sad, serious occasions which tended to follow fairly rigid rituals that left little room for personal expression. In this part of the world everyone wore black or dark colours, looked solemn and children were usually excluded from the proceedings for fear it might upset them. Thankfully that’s largely changed now and we are more likely to celebrate the life of the person we have lost. Even little lives barely lived or not actually lived at all can be celebrated. If in the midst of our feelings of loss we can look at the good things we shared with our loved ones then we are likely to find that there is indeed much to celebrate and even smile about.

It might sound like an odd thing to say but I’ve been to some amazing funerals where a lot of joy as well as sorrow was expressed. Laughter has its place among the tears and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a funeral without knowing a lot more about the person who has died, even when I knew them well, or so I thought. Crying and laughing together helps us take that first step into the “what now” that we all have to deal with after loss. It helps us to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we find our way to a new form of normality. As long as we hold our loved ones in our hearts we are not abandoning them.

We have come together tonight to remember our loved ones. They are lost to us here and now but I take comfort in knowing that they are not lost to God but are precious to him. A line from our reading from John’s Gospel reassures me if this. Jesus says “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day”. I pray that you too will find comfort in this.


Reader Kath Boyd

‘The Ascension’ – 28th May, 7th Sunday of Easter

How important is Ascension Day?  My secondary school in Coventry felt that it was important enough to hold an evening service in one of the city’s bigger churches, which all staff and students (plus parents) were supposed to attend.  I hadn’t a clue why, and I resented going (although one year I had to read a prayer and so got the afternoon off school for a rehearsal).  I didn’t understand the significance of the occasion.  And they can’t have done a very good job of explaining it either, because at that stage I couldn’t even have told you which Bible story it related to.  So much for going to a church school!

I’m guessing that most, if not all of us here today can probably link the occasion with the Bible story.  But perhaps we still don’t really understand its significance.  Because actually the Ascension was a central and pivotal point in the Christian story.

Did you know that the Acts of the Apostles is actually a sequel?  And that at the beginning of Acts, we’re only half way through the story?  Acts was written by the author of Luke’s gospel, the second volume of a 2-part work.

Because our gospels all finish with the crucifixion and resurrection, there’s a tendency to think that the story finishes there.  What we don’t realise is that we’re only half way through!  Luke is the only evangelist to tell us what happened next.

In his first volume, Luke tells the story of Jesus beginning with his birth, then his ministry, and climaxing with his crucifixion and resurrection.  The first chapter of Acts is a prologue to the sequel – the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian Church.  The prologue gives a brief summary of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection appearances, then today’s account of the Ascension.

Today’s story is the culmination of the first part of the drama and points the way to the second.  It’s a pivotal point in the whole story.  It’s one of those strange biblical episodes, which in today’s world, we can struggle to explain, particularly if we take it literally.  What exactly happened?

What exactly happened is probably less important than why it happened.  Jesus and the remaining 11 disciples have gone up Mount Olivet, not far from Jerusalem.  The disciples know that this is a significant event.  Mountain top experiences always are.  They’re when one gets a glimpse of God’s majesty, however fleeting.  We think of Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinaii, or Jesus’ transfiguration.  But the disciples think that now is the time when Jesus will restore the kingdom to Israel.  You can understand their logic.  After all, Jesus has been going on about the coming of the kingdom ever since they started following him!

Jesus tells them that the how and when of the kingdom are for God alone to know.  But then he tells them that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And they will become his witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judaea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.

Then he’s taken from them.  The discples are caught up in the experience and continue to look heavenwards.  But, a bit like with the women at the tomb on Easter morning, they are brought back to earth by two men in white.  Why are you looking heavenwards?  Jesus will come in the same way as you saw him go.

So it’s time to come down from the mountain.  The eleven return to Jerusalem, to the upper room where they’d been staying.  They rejoin their wider group, which Luke notes, includes women and members of Jesus’ family.

The disciples have reached a turning point.  Their time with Jesus physically present with them is over.  They’ve had 40 extra, wonderful days of him, something they couldn’t have imagined on Good Friday.  And now he must leave them in body and they must continue without his physical presence.  He has brought them to the cusp of adulthood.  It is time to leave the nest.  Something new is about to happen.  They’re not quite sure what.  It’s a time of anticipation.  A time of preparation.

The disciples did not know exactly what was coming next, or when.  It’s a bit difficult to prepare for something when you’re not exactly sure what it is.  But they did know to stick together, to support each other.  And they knew how to pray.  Jesus had taught them that.  And what better preparation for whatever was to come than to spend time in prayer together.  So that’s what they did.

So how important is Ascensiontide?  Bishop Steven thought it was very important.  He recognised that this was a pivotal point in the Church’s year.  And so he encouraged our diocese to hold 10 days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost.  A time when we move away from focusing deeply on the story of Jesus himself and move towards focusing on what Jesus wanted us to do as a church.  And what Jesus wanted the church to be doing was to get out there into the world, sharing the gospel far and wide.

But sharing our faith with others can be a daunting prospect.  We can be nervous about doing so.  We can feel inadequate.  We can feel ill-prepared.  And that’s why it’s important to pray.  We can pray alone, but it’s important to pray together too, for in doing so we support each other.  And by praying together, we can discern together what God wants us to do.

So in these 10 days of prayer, let us pray for each other and for the world.  Let us pray for Manchester and for the Middle East.  For people of our faith, of other faiths and of no particular faith.  Let us pray that God’s spirit will guide us in all we do and say when we are out and about in our daily lives.  And let us pray that we too will be effective witnesses, just as the first disciples were.

Reader Catherine Burchell


Readings for sermon and links:

Acts 1:6-14 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-8

‘Training Manuals’ – 21st May, 6th Sunday of Easter

Many years ago I used to write training manuals and teach courses about various technical subjects.  One of my mentors had previously served in the Royal Air Force, and told me that the basic technique I should adopt in writing technical manuals was “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em you’ve told ‘em.”

If you’ve ever read manuals produced for the Services, you may well have seen this style of writing.

And I was reminded of it a few days ago when I read tonight’s reading from Peter to prepare this sermon.

You see, I’d preached on another part of Peter’s 1st Letter a couple of weeks ago.  And to be honest, when I re-read tonight’s reading from from Peter I thought to myself ‘Hang on, this sounds a bit familiar’, and indeed similar issues are raised in it to the issues he covered in Chapter 2 of his letter.

It did indeed feel that Peter was drilling something very important in to us.

Peter’s first letter isn’t quite like that pastoral letters that Paul wrote; there’s little of a personal nature in it, and rather than it being addressed to a particular Church, it’s addressed to Christians scattered all over Asia Minor.  Some scholars have commented that that this, and the general style of writing and content, suggest that it was either intended to be read as a sermon or a baptismal address, or that it was a letter based on a sermon.  This would allow the content of the letter as a whole – which is based around handling and dealing with persecution, and the response of Christians to persecution – to be seen as an address to be preached.  Other scholars have said that it’s just as possible that Peter wrote the letter as a letter to a widely spread group of Christians, to be copied and taken to different places, because many Christians from Asia Minor were in Jerusalem when he preached at the first Pentecost, and this was his follow up, so to say.

Whatever the case, Peter starts by again reminding us that if we’re to be persecuted or punished it should be for going good – doing what we are expected to do as a Christian – and not because we’ve committed a crime.

 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

He’s telling the readers to answer those who might persecute them or criticise their behaviour in such a way as to make those persecutors think, or even feel shame.  Remember the old saying “You catch more flies with wine than with vinegar’? I think Peter is suggesting that here!

Verse 18 reminds us that Jesus – the only totally righteous man – suffered and was put to death in order that the rest of us could be bought to God.

Verses 19 to 22 of tonight’s reading are quite widely discussed by theologians.  There are a number of viewpoints held by different scholars, but I’ll stick with the most straight forward one tonight –

When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in the spirit’ – that is, prior to His incarnation through Mary – preached through Noah to the unbelievers who were on earth during the time. Noah and his family survived the flood, the others who disobeyed and did not repent so now are ‘spirits in prison’.


I have to say that better minds than mine have taken a look at this question and identified a couple of snags with this interpretation, and have offered other interpretations based on other translations of scripture.

But the thing to take away from this section of the reading is that the flood is symbolic of baptism. The water of the flood swept away the wicked; the water of our baptism washes the sin from us and allows us to be saved by Christ.

I think Peter’s letter speaks to ANY Christian at a time of direct persecution or at a time when it’s hard to be a Christian and behave in a Christ like manner in a society that is increasingly secular and that is governed and managed in a way that make deprivation and lack of compassion a common feature of everyday life.

Peter asks us “Who will harm you if you are eager to do good?” These days we may feel that society itself has a distinct tendency to make doing good – being a practical follower of Christ – hard; Peter tells us that even if we do suffer for doing good, we shouldn’t be scared. We shouldn’t respond with disrespect and anger but should respond in a way that reflects the fact that we are saved by Christ’s resurrection; with gentleness and love.

Sometimes we all feel moved to make a stand for something we believe in; as Christians we’re reminded of ‘what matters’ by the words of Micah – show mercy, do justly, love God.  Being merciful, just and compassionate can be incredibly hard in a society that doesn’t value those virtues as much as it might.  And we start wondering, “If it’s so hard, and I can get hurt, am I the right person for this job?”

But you know what? I think that Peter is telling us that not only are we the right people for the job, we’re the people who’re best equipped for it, and we’re the ONLY people who will be saved by Jesus Christ.

We’re not just the right people for the job; it’s the job we Christians are here for, and we need to get on with it.

Reader Joe Pritchard


Readings for sermon and links:

1 Peter 3:13-22