May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I’d like to start tonight by with a quotation from a film that you may recognise:
“A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn’t think he’d remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”
That quotation is from the character Mr Bernstein in the film ‘Citizen Kane’. And it’s about a very powerful gift we have – that of memory. Tonight we remember those we have loved and from whom we see no longer. Mr Bernstein has a vivid and powerful memory of a split second of experience from when he was a young man; such is the power of memory. A smell, a piece of music, the sight of a dress in a shop window may all trigger our memories of those we have lost.
As Christians, we look at our memories, and our responses to those memories, with the faith, hope and comfort that comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
But when we lose friends and family, it can be desperately hard to find comfort even with our faith. We love and remember those who’ve died; we know that Jesus himself mourned deeply for the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he could bring him back. In Matthew’s gospel, we’re told:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
And we’re also reminded in John:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.”
Our faith tells us that our loved ones are going ahead of us in to the closer presence of God. But despite our faith and the hope within it, when our loved ones die we still suffer.
Peter’s first letter is often referred to as a letter of hope in the midst of suffering. It’s addressed to Jewish and Gentile Christians in many places throughout Asia Minor, and he acknowledges that they will have to ‘suffer grief in all kinds of trials’ but that through these times of trial their faith will be refined and proved genuine.
When Peter says ‘He has given us a new birth in to a living hope’, ‘hope’ is loaded with a meaning for the readers of the letter than we might find surprising today. In scripture, hope doesn’t mean our current ‘wishful thinking’, but a firm conviction for the future – in this case, a firm belief that they will, like Jesus, be resurrected in to a new life.
The readers of the letter haven’t met Jesus; they’re not with him yet; but they love him all the same. And they’re told in this reading that they can rejoice in the knowledge that they’re protected by God’s power through their faith, until they get their ‘inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ – that of resurrection in to a new life in the presence of God.
In Psalm 27, the writer is telling of his faith in the power of the Lord. The writer asks that he may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life; not just this earthly life, but the new life to come. And he tells us that in the days of trouble, the Lord will “hide me in his shelter; in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me”
And at the end of this reading, we’re reminded of something very important indeed; to be patient.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord”.
During times of suffering, the Psalmist tells us, we will be comforted, but we must show patience as well. And when we suffer, showing patience is hard; we want our suffering to be over – we often want to be with our loved ones again, here, now, to be able to share our daily toings and froings with them. Or we want to be with them, close to God. And sometimes comfort seems far off.
But we have memory. A gift from God that starts off being sharp and painful, but smoothes to become more comforting as time passes. A gift by which we can still express the love we have for those who’ve died, and in some cases, even realise through our memories that they loved us more than they let on at the time!
Marcel Proust wrote in his ‘Rememberance of Things Past’ that memory is “a sort of cutting [that] can be taken from one person and grafted on to the heart of another, where it continues to exist even when the person from whom it has been taken has perished.”
I’d suggest that the cutting is a gift of comfort from God, nourished by our love, and His grace, to keep a link between us and our loved ones.
They go ahead of us to the eternal and nearer presence of God; we who are left here are blessed with their presence in the form of those memories in our hearts and minds until we too join them in that New Heaven and New Earth that we are promised.
Joe Pritchard – Reader