Memorial Service 2010

Sermon Date: 
14 Nov 2010
Bible Base: 
1 Corinthians 13

David Jeans

Many of you will know that Viv and I spent a couple of years in New Zealand. We got to love the Maori and Pacific Island people who have much to teach us about what it means to be community and family, and also much about how we handle death. One of the Maori words I did manage to learn was whanau, which roughly translated means the extended family. When someone in the whanau dies, they all gather at the home village for a few days before the funeral, and everyone who knows the family comes to pay their respects. The gathering is called a tangi. Those who come make speeches about the person who has died, and bring gifts of money (koha) to help the family provide hospitality for all their guests. Employers in New Zealand know that this happens and they (mostly!) give permission for the whanau to attend the tangi – and they don’t have to bethe immediate family.
Maori people are also very good at remembering those who have died. When Viv and I were welcomed at the College in Auckland part of the ceremony (powhiri) was to pause to remember the ancestors. For Viv and myself this was very special, as that powhiri was in the first week of June, a week in which my Mum had died 1 year before, and Viv’s parents had died in that week 3 and 5 years earlier.
It is good to remember – it is good to have opportunities like this service. Painful of course, but the pain is an expression of the love which we shared with the person who has died. Think of the language we use – our ‘loved ones’. That is a term of honour for the people we remember today – we have loved them, and they have loved us, and love is the most important thing in the world. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13 – other things may pass away, but love endures for ever.
Intellectually, I believe that death is not the end because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for which I believe the evidence is compelling. If the tomb was not empty why was the body not produced? Above all, why did these frightened disciples who deserted Jesus at the Cross turn into a group of people who turned the world upside down with the message of the risen Jesus – many of them dying for that message.
But emotionally I look at the way that our love for one another, our relationships with one another, are the most wonderful and meaningful thing in the universe. Love gives our lives meaning. Love and relationships are so important in the universe that I cannot believe that they just finish.
One of the passages in the Bible which I keep coming back to is in John’s Gospel. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.” John says that Jesus has made God known to us. When we look at Jesus, we see God with a human face. And when we look at Jesus we see someone who had great compassion, someone who enjoyed people, someone always ready to forgive and give people a second chance. Someone who loved and loves us. Those we remember today as our ‘loved ones’ are also ‘loved ones’ of God. Perhaps even more wonderful is that those who have no ‘loved ones’ to remember them are also ‘loved ones’ of God. We see that again and again in the ministry of Jesus. A woman of Samaria so looked down on by others that she went to collect water in the middle of the day; a blind beggar the disciples wanted to be quiet; a woman seen as unclean because of constant bleeding; lepers whom no one else would touch; the hated tax collector Zacchaeus. People with no-one who loved them loved by Jesus and shown compassion by Jesus – and in the grace and truth of Jesus we see the truth about God.
Love is the most wonderful thing in the universe and it is the very nature of God himself. Why did Jesus become the word made flesh? Because God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
For me, the most meaningful part of a funeral service is the part called the commendation – a prayer in which we commend the person who has died to the love and mercy of God. I pray that prayer at a funeral with confidence – not because of whatever I knew about the person who has died, but because of what I know of the God into whose loving arms I commend them.
Paul knew that love of God shown to us in Jesus. And he wrote nearly two thousand years ago these words which still have the power to reach us today:- I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is nothing in all of creation that is stronger than God’s love for us – that is why our remembering can have peace and hope alongside the pain. May you know that peace and hope that comes from knowing God’s love for us.