Sermon preached at the annual Memorial Service for St John’s, Adel 2019
“We followed the woodland trail, marvelling at the autumn colours. And I thought, ‘Mum will enjoy hearing about this’. Then I realised she wasn’t there any more…there would be no more conversations.” An experience shared recently by someone who has just lost his mother.
I guess it’s a familiar experience to most of you. It’s one of the things that brings home the reality of death – the end of our conversations. It’s one reason we find the death of a loved one so difficult; we struggle to imagine our lives going on without their words and their listening ear.
But if someone has been special to us, the conversations never really end. They continue in our lives because little things will often remind us of their words. And more importantly because they will have helped to form the people we are.
When I meet people to prepare for a funeral, they very often remember favourite sayings or phrases of the person who has died. Sometimes funny, sometimes wise advice, these have shaped the lives of the relatives remembering them.
I now have trouble recalling my Mum’s face without a photograph to help but I can still hear her. Two conversations particularly stay with me.
One was repeated many times, especially as I struggled as a new mother…I would pour out the latest panic…child refusing to eat, child wetting the bed…she would say – “It’s just a phase. It will pass.”
The other at the end of my first exam week at University, when everyone else seemed so much cleverer. I rang home to say I had probably failed everything. There was a silence on the other end of the phone…then Mum said “O.K. What have you got planned for this week?”
It’s a long time since I’ve been able to have a conversation with my Mum. But when things are difficult she still speaks into my life…telling me things are not usually as bad as I think, and that even if they are, I am still loved.
In a way those conversations with our loved one do go on – when we hear what they might have said in the new situations we face.
Of course not all the conversations we recall are positive…sometimes people die with important things unsaid. Sometimes hard words were exchanged…or silences allowed to fester. We are left feeling guilty or angry because hurts were left unforgiven, wrongs not righted – the conversation was not ended properly.
We who come to this holy place week by week do so because we have found in God, love that can heal such rifts. Love that gradually reshapes us, and our conversations.
And our readings tonight remind us that with God, death is not the end…but the point when we come face to face with that love. For us, who cannot yet hear the end of the conversation, death looks like destruction…for those with God ‘they are at peace’, ‘their hope is full of immortality’…they have l suppose learned a whole new language.
Jesus tried to explain to his disciples what this looked like. A house with many rooms, he said, with a space especially prepared for each of you. A house – the place of the everyday conversations we miss so much.
And if those readings sound exclusive, perhaps that’s a reminder of the limitation of words. Like us, the writers could only imagine what happens after death. They knew though, that in conversation with love itself everyone must be changed.
For many of us – by the end conversations are not possible. Many final illnesses rob us of speech – but love is shared and known, through touch, through just being there.
In the end too, our Christian hope comes down to love. In Christ’s life, death and resurrection we are promised that all people can be reconciled to God. That in Christ our words, and those of our loved ones go on.
So we continue to remember our loved ones who have died. I guess often we continue to talk to them. We remember their words, good and not so good. We carry forward into our lives the conversations that changed us for the better – and hand to God the words, theirs and ours that we regret.
We trust they are now safe with God, but they stay in our prayers because we need help to put the conversations that shaped us and defined them into God’s wider conversation of love.