My article Living with Grief in the Tasmanian Anglican June 2012 edition has assumed particular relevance at this time with the death of our Revd Jill Martin on Saturday. I have been comforted as I re-read and reflected on the article and the Bible verses. I trust that you will also find comfort in this article. It follows:
Life is a chaotic mixture of joy, fulfilment and grief. Maybe I’m just getting older (clearly I am getting older!), but recent years seem to have brought significant times of grief.
In my filing cabinet I have three folders of Funeral Services that I have either taken or been involved with in some way. The folders capture the desires of the gathered community to express deep emotions. Emotions concerning dreams that will now never be, words and actions that we wish we’d only said or shared, and our own anxieties over how we will live without them.
This mixture of emotions is expressed in the opening words of the Funeral Service (1995 APBA):
We have come together to thank God for the life of N,
to mourn and honour him/her
to lay to rest his/her mortal body
and to support one another in grief.
We face the certainty of our own death and judgment.
Yet Christians believe that those who die in Christ
share eternal life with him.
Therefore in faith and hope we turn to God, who created and sustains us all.
Grief is individual and shared. In Argentina, the body of the deceased person was laid out in a coffin in the same way that we have ‘a public viewing’ of the body in Australia. This was sometimes done over a period of 12 to 18 hours in the person’s home or in a funeral home. This allowed time for stories about the person to be shared: stories both humorous, serious and the very ordinary. All this allowed us to come together to mourn and honour our friend and to support one another in our grief.
Being with each other at a time of grief enables both silence and speaking to be shared. It’s okay to be silent and it’s also okay to talk about the deceased person. Expressing thanks to God, family and friends for a person’s life brings positive memories of their life and honours them.
The Funeral Service itself occurs over a short time, but grieving extends beyond this time.
As Christians, we pray and seek to give practical support to those most affected by the death of a loved one. We are comforted by Jesus’ promise of resurrection life (John 11:25) and also by the Holy Spirit who takes our unspoken prayers to God and reminds us of Christ’s comfort.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
All loss reminds us of the fragility of life.
Death reminds us of the inevitability of our own death and judgment before God. The Funeral Service does not back away from the finality of death. Death is real.
The Psalmist says,
(Lord) you turn us back to dust: and say, ‘Go back, you children of earth.’
Therefore we are reminded to review our own lives,
(Lord) teach us rightly to number our days: so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Psalm 90)
How do I live with grief? Not easily.
However, I have been greatly comforted in my grief by the tears of Jesus for his friend Lazarus (John 11). I appreciate an affectionate hug, a hand to hold, simply sitting, standing, being with others experiencing shared grief.
I look forward to our eternal home where there with be no more tears or sorrow (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime, I am thankful for God who in his Son knows suffering.
Shalom in Christ,
Bishop of Tasmania