On Monday I will conduct the funeral of a man just 2 years older than myself, who took his own life after a long struggle with depression.
His family are quite simply amazing, and working with them has been an unbelievable privilege. Together we have trodden holy ground.
A friend is giving a tribute, leaving the "God slot" for me. Time will be of the essence, as we're restricted to a brief half-hour at the Crematorium, but I realise that this might be the only safe space in which some of the mourners can really confront their feelings. So I would value prayers that all that needs to be said and heard is indeed said and heard, so that the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense for everyone.
Aside from the prayers, this will be my contribution, based on Romans 8 31ff
Those words of St Paul’s - brimming over with confidence as they are -might seem a little unrealistic for us today.
I never met [ ], but I’ve learned enough in the past week to realise that his felt experience was that God’s love too often appeared to be interrupted, or inaccessible, even when it was presented to him through the devoted care of his family and friends.
So…what makes these anything more than empty words in a situation of great sadness?
The Christian church makes a claim for the objective reality of God’s love, even when it is impossible to discern it…for a faith that exists independent of the emotional highs and lows we all experience. Even the greatest of saints endured long periods when God appeared absent, and struggled with the restless longings of a dark night of the soul, and Jesus on the cross felt himself cut off from his heavenly Father.
But feelings are rarely the best index of reality.
We take on trust so much in the scientific world,- things which are beyond our comprehension, things which we cannot possibly prove for ourselves. Perhaps we need to extend this same acceptance to belief in the love of God. This is the message of a well-worn saying, which gained respect when it was scrawled on a cell wall by a WW2 p.o.w.
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love
even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent”
Perhaps on a good day, this might be enough for us…- but a silent God is of no use to us here and now…
We need someone who is involved, who has been through this sort of pain, and who can do something to transform it.
Paul seems very sure that God is for us…and his evidence is based not on feel-good factors but on the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is ultimate proof of God’s love – for he made a gift of himself to each one of us, choosing to enter our world and to go through the very worst that life could throw at him.
Dying the death of a common criminal, mocked by the crowd and deserted by those who’d been his friends…It looked as if everything had gone terribly, disastrously wrong, as if there was no hope left anywhere. Nothing to do but despair. Rock bottom.
But then, just three days later, the perspective changed…and it’s with that new perspective that we can now look at life, death and eternity. The sort of nothingness that was death came up against the unconquerable love that is God, and was itself defeated. Nothing could stand in the way of that love. It forced its way through death so that Jesus was truly and fully alive again. His Resurrection, his rising to new and eternal life, means that there is nothing so awful or hopeless that it cannot be transformed and made new.
It is this love which Paul celebrates…this love that meets us where we are and carries us through the darkness, if we’re only willing to let it.
We may prefer to turn our faces to the wall, but this won’t affect the final outcome. NOTHING can separate us from God’s love.
Another great saint, Augustine, who knew more than most about the ups and downs of life, wrote
“Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”.
Sometimes, that search for rest isn’t successful in this life. But if neither death nor life, nor anything in it can separate us from God’s love, then we can rejoice that [ ] has at last found what he was looking for and commit him with confidence to the God who made him, who loves him and who died so that we, with him, might live forever in his love.