“We have just heard truly wonderful
tributes about your mother. May they go some way to compensate
against the profoundly shocking time you have been through. After
fighting such a long and intense battle for your mother’s life, when
her prospects for recovery hung in the balance and lurched between
promise and decline, you are bound to have many emotional ups and
You have found it hard not knowing until very near the end if she
was going to make a full recovery, or whether she was about to go
and be with the Lord. You were torn between the shadow of an
oncoming death that you were determined to withstand at all costs,
and recognising that death is also the “gateway to everlasting
For many long weeks you rode the tempestuous waves of two oceans
surging against each other – and now that the raging storm has
passed, you have to adjust to the different demands of a flatter sea
in the aftermath of your loss.
Now is the time to give expression to your accumulated grief. There
is absolutely nothing wrong with this: grief is every bit as valid
an emotion as love and joy. This is what C.S. Lewis wrote in A
Grief Observed following the loss of his own beloved wife, after
only a few short years together.
||Bereavement is a
universal and integral part of our experience of our love.
It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows a
courtship, or as autumn follows summer. It is not a
truncation of the process, but one of its phases.
Lazarus’ house was the
nearest thing to a regular family home that Jesus knew. When
Mary and Martha sent news that their brother was desperately
ill and at the point of death, I wonder what they would have
thought if had they overhead Jesus say Lazarus is dead,
and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you
might believe. (John 11:14)
Mary and Martha reproached Him for the delay, pointing out
that he would not have died had He been present. Jesus knew
perfectly well what He was about to do, but when He saw the
sisters’ grief, it affected Him deeply.
The shortest verse in the Bible is simply this: Jesus
wept (John 11:35). They are words full of depth and
power and meaning.
Whenever we hear in the gospels of Jesus feeling compassion,
we mentally prepare ourselves for something special to
happen. When He saw a funeral procession at Nain, He raised
the widow’s only son from the dead.
When He saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd, He took
pity on them and multiplied the loaves and the fishes in
order that they should not faint from hunger on the way.
Compassion, like grief itself, is an intense emotion. The
Greek word could almost be translated as a “gut ache.” In
all our distress, He too is distressed (Isaiah 63:9). It
is right for us to feel things deeply, and then to go a step
further and to turn those feelings into prayer, for God is
only ever a prayer away.
There was so much wisdom in Jesus’ decision to wait – but
then comes that wonderful moment when the Father shows Him
that the time has come to act. Are there any greater moments
in life than when Heaven breaks through and Jesus comes to
our rescue after some particularly long and searing trial?
To the joy and amazement of many, Jesus called Lazarus back
to life, even though he had been four days in the grave. The
Pharisees, who were too set in their ways, and too proud in
their hearts to follow the Way that Jesus was showing them,
became still more determined to do away with Him.
When the two of you were about to get engaged, you made the
effort to travel a thousand miles north to come and visit us
in Shetland. Even though you had never been to these
remarkable islands before, you sensed how special they were,
and immediately felt a profound spiritual connection with
them. Every homecoming is precious – especially in a place
where, until the coming of powerful modern fishing vessels,
it must always have been a great relief to see loved ones
returning safely home after long and dangerous trips on the
wild northern waters.
“Hamefarin” is the delightful Shetland word for homecoming.
The word is used particularly to describe people returning
to their homeland after being off the island for many years.
For many there is a profoundly spiritual quality about this
“hamefarin” – the sense of returning home to roots and
Over the years, many Shetland folk left their beloved island
home and went to settle in places such as New Zealand and
Nova Scotia. Typically, these people imbued the next
generation with a deep sense of love for their homeland.
They taught their children the dialect, the culture and the
music. At the slightest opportunity they would take their
fiddle down from its peg and play – first to their children
and then in the wider community. They told their children
such vivid stories about the islands that when they
themselves visited the islands, they often experienced a
profound sense of coming home.
What can be more precious than such a “hamefarin”? It is not
only the homeless who pine for a secure and stable home. Now
that this grief has come your way, you are finding yourself
longing to return to the way things were, and to people and
places that bring you comfort and joy.
As surely as your mother’s roots went deep in her faith, and
you are exploring yours, there is a spiritual belonging that
anchors the soul and that makes sense of everything else –
even though the ups and downs are bound to continue as grief
carves its path through your life.
Sometimes this river will be in full spate but sometimes it
will be much quieter. You have needed to strengthen your
“riverbanks” during these past few difficult weeks in order
to protect yourself. These walls will remain up for some
time to come – rather like the London flood barrier. They
are part of God’s divine anaesthetic, enabling you to bear
the unbearable and to tide you through these darkest hours.
Later, they will not be needed, or, at least not to the same
extent, and then it will be right to let the barriers down.
To continue sheltering behind them would keep others whom
you need to be close to at a distance – and maybe even the
The truth is that we need each other in order to recover.
The concepts Simon and Garfunkel lauded in their song “I
am a rock, I am an island” were profoundly mistaken.
They celebrated that they had no need of love or friendship,
for friendship causes pain.
I love the music, but I cannot agree with the sentiments.
Life is too rich to shut ourselves off from our life source.
We are not a rock or an island; we are human beings made in
the image of God with a deep longing for love, laughter and
May I take this opportunity, therefore, to spell this
message out: your grief will take as long as it takes to
recover from. Don’t be dismayed if other people become
impatient, and assume you ought to have got over it by now.
Since when did God ever deal with “oughteries?” Each of us
has our own set of memories to celebrate and to negotiate
our way around. You are bound to experience backwashes and
eddies as the river of grief surges along, but you will
benefit greatly by making the effort to stay close to those
who are willing to accompany you on this journey. As Gregory
the Great put it,
||When we are linked by the
power of prayer, we, as it were, hold each other’s hand as
we walk side by side along a slippery path, and thus it
comes about that the harder each one leans on the other, the
more firmly we are riveted together in brotherly love.
Lean together into the pain.
It is rather like a birth, where positioning and breathing
are so important. With every difficulty, lean together into
the pain. There will always be a way forward. The closer you
are linked together, the better you can hold each other
along life’s way. There comes a point, however, beyond which
each one of us must journey on alone, like Reepicheep in the
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, courageously sailing on
alone to Aslan’s country.
The more we look to Jesus, and seek to lead lives worthy of
our calling, the more we will look forward to that final
journey. After all the careers and achievements we laboured
so hard to develop have reached their conclusion, we will
discover that they are not the things that matter most when
we make the final transition and stand before the Lord
Jesus, either as our Saviour or our judge. He is not that
interested in what sort of car we drove, or where we reached
on the career ladder – but He is interested in whether we
received His love deep in our hearts, and shared it with
Those who are in Christ and have preceded us to Heaven will
be there to greet us. A few weeks before your mother made
the final journey home, she had a dream in which she saw
Jesus coming for her, flanked by Mary and Joseph. I had a
strong sense then that her earthly pilgrimage was nearly
complete. I knew then that I needed to help you to let her
go. Years ago I came to understand a remarkable truth: that
what we sow does not come to life until it dies. So often it
is only as we let go that God moves to accomplish His most
Let me read some of Paul’s teaching in the fifteenth chapter
of his first letter to the Corinthians. I’m taking it from
Eugene Petersen’s inspiring paraphrase, The Message.
||Friends, let me go over the
Message with you one final time – this Message that I
proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which
you took your stand and by which your life has been saved.
(I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and
not a passing fancy, that you're in this for good and
The first thing I did was place before you what was placed
so emphatically before me: that the Jesus, the Messiah, died
for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that He was
buried; that He was raised from death on the third day,
again exactly as Scripture says; that He presented himself
alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to
more than five hundred of his followers all at the same
time, most of them still around (although a few have since
died); that He then spent time with James and the rest of
those he commissioned to represent Him; and that He finally
presented Himself alive to me.
It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don't deserve to
be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having
spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God's
church right out of existence.
But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I
am. And I'm not about to let his grace go to waste . . .
Let’s face it – if there’s no resurrection for Christ,
everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and
everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.
Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of
barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on
to you verifying that God raised up Christ – sheer
fabrications, if there’s no resurrection. . . . If all we
get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short
years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that
Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of
those who are going to leave the cemeteries . . .
Some sceptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection
works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this
“resurrection body” look like?” If you look at this question
closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams
for this kind of thing.
We do have a parallel experience – in gardening. You plant a
“dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no
visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never
guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato
seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it
don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the
ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be
dramatically different . . .
This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant
is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in
approaching the mystery of the resurrection body – but only
if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for
good, alive forever! . . . The seed sown is natural; the
seed grown is supernatural – same seed, same body, but what
a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to
when it is raised up in spiritual immortality! . . .
In the same way that we’ve worked from our earthy origins,
let’s embrace our heavenly ends . . . With all this going
for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t
hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master,
confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or
When the Sadducees, who
understood nothing about the realities of eternal life, came
to Jesus and asked Him a potentially tricky question about
whose wife a woman would be if she lost her husband and
married his brother, Jesus cut right through their argument.
||You are making a serious
mistake because you know neither the power of God nor the
Scriptures. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – He
is the God of the living. Matthew 22:29
In the aftermath of loss,
many long to make contact with their loved ones, perhaps to
reassure themselves that they are in a safe place. I am sure
that your mother is living now with Jesus, where there is
crystal clear clarity and perfect continuity, and this is
therefore not a temptation for you, but it may be for some
who are here today. As a result, many end up visiting
spiritists and mediums, not so much because they want to
know the future, but because they want to revisit the past.
To say the least this is most unwise because it brings us
into contact with spirit powers that God specifically tells
us to steer well clear of.
God does not want you to be endlessly looking backward,
because people who persist in looking over their shoulder
usually bump into things! Although it may seem far away and
remote, there will come a moment when you realise that you
really have begun to move on. Let’s pray together.