Sermon: Easter 5, Year A – Funerals and Death

Text: John 14:1-12

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled”

I have preached on this text quite a number of times. In fact, it is probably the portion of Scripture on which I preach most frequently. I would like to think that it has honed my thinking on it, but there is a distinct chance that many of you will have already heard it; for it is one of the principle texts read at the Funeral Office. Perhaps there may be an opportunity for some of you to join me in the familiar chorus at some stage…

However, I think that many of the things I have repeated at some of the many funerals we have celebrated here, bear repeating again; for there are some familiar stories which need to be repeated over and over again for their significance to be truly revealed.

This passage of Scripture speaks to all of us about that which we have no control. Death will come to all of us, and yet we so seldom speak of it. I heard it said that a hundred years ago, the Victorians were obsessed with death: long periods in mourning, complicated family rituals and a gothic sense of the spiritual – obsessed with death and afraid to talk of sex. Where as today… society is obsessed with sex and afraid to talk of death. Even when Christ spoke of his impending arrest and passion, the disciples could not comprehend it. But speak of death we must, because it is not unspeakable, but an integrated part of life. We begin our lives with God, we travel through this earthly life (which may be only a small part of it) and at this point we return back to God, and that is the promise – the promise made by Christ himself – that we must hold onto whenever this sadness and loss confronts us.

Funerals are sad occasions, and the loss of someone loved is never easy. Bereavement is one of the most unpleasant emotions, but is a necessary one: for bereavement is one of the emotions that make us truly human: to sense the loss of someone in our lives and to seek to be healed emotionally. Christ himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. However, as Scripture tells us so very clearly, this sadness should be contrasted with the hope that Jesus Christ promises to us in these times of sadness and loss. It is a powerful hope for all of us, whether we actively proclaim our Christian faith, or whether faith is, a private matter, kept to oneself.

The Gospel gives us the consoling words of Christ addressed to his own disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled”. Christ has gone before us and through his experience of death, through his overcoming of death in the triumph of the resurrection, he has opened up the way to eternal life for each and everyone of us.

For death, although a physical loss to those of us here, is very much a part of life: death is not an end, but merely a change in relationship, and a change in perspective which we on this earth find difficult to perceive, but Oh yes, the departed are still very much with us, in our memories, in our love and in our prayers.

I have, throughout my priestly ministry conducted many funerals: of those of great age, dignity and social standing, with a packed church and a wailing, tearful congregation; of those isolated and alone – indeed where myself and a next-door neighbour were the only ones there at the graveside; of adults cut short in the prime of their life; and of children, died before they had to opportunity to reach their prime. For all of these, Christ says “Come. I shall return to take you with me. Follow”. The dignity of the Christian Funeral is there for all, from the mightiest to the least, the youngest to the eldest. God’s welcome is for all of them, and so are our prayers. This is why I always include the prayers for the faithful departed and those whose anniversaries of death (known as ‘Year’s mind’) occur. Remember the words: “Rest Eternal Grant unto them, O Lord / And let light perpetual shine upon them / May they Rest in Peace / And rise in Glory” is a powerful prayer. Prayer for the departed is of benefit for them, and of great benefit to us, for it provides us with solace and links us with them, whether we knew them or not, God knows them, and they ALL deserve our unselfish prayers for their immortal souls.

Christ himself declared that he was “the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by him” and it is with this sure promise that we meet at a funeral to assist the faithful departed on the next part of life’s journey.

It is with this promise that we gather to re-enact that one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction in the mysteries of the sacraments and as we do this, as Jesus Christ assured us, “Let not your hearts be troubled”