Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Sermon for Bereavement Service 4 Dec 2016

Talk for Bereavement Service    4 Dec 2016.

As some of you will be aware, my wife Debbie died in April, so that places me in the rather strange situation of being someone contributing to this service, but also someone who would be on the list to be invited as the funeral took place here at MPC.

For 8 years, early in our marriage, Debbie and I lived in Coventry, as I was based in a parish on the southern edge of the city. Not everyone finds it an easy city to love, but Coventry became very significant to us – especially as we were living there when both of our children were born.

Bereavement makes you rewind to memories in your life, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that period.  It has prompted memories of the city itself, as well as of the life we shared there. And as I thought about it, different images came into my mind, which spoke into my current situation, and I’d like to share some of those this afternoon.

An Unrecognisable Landscape
A couple of weeks ago, Coventrians remembered the notorious bombing raid that destroyed most of the city centre on the night of November 14 1940. It also resulted in the cathedral being reduced to a burned-out shell. I remember talking to someone who had seen the raid and she remembered her father talking about being on duty that night as an air-raid warden. He had described to her how he had emerged from a shelter and could no longer work out where he was in the smoking ruins. Nothing recognisable was left in that part of the city.

It struck me that bereavement can be like that for many people. It’s like a raid from nowhere, leaving life shattered, and in a world that has few recognisable landmarks. We can feel lost, bewildered and stranded. In my case, I knew what was coming for quite a long time, but even if that is true, you can never fully anticipate the impact, and it leaves you in an alien landscape.

Traces of What Used to be
Later in the 1980s, just before we moved there, Coventry also experienced industrial decline, resulting in lots of factory closures. There were sites all around the city where there were shells of buildings, outlines of walls, and sometimes just a huge rectangle of concrete floor. You could see an echo of a past, but the reality had gone.

Losing someone can feel a bit like that, too – it has been for me. The traces are there of the life we shared with the person we loved, but the substantial reality has gone. We still follow certain patterns, habits, even a routine, but the reason for doing so isn’t really there anymore. I’ve certainly felt that, and realised that the things that used to define some of my day, my week no longer exist, and it’s a shock when you realise that those anchoring points have disappeared

A Limited Life
One day in Coventry, I went to do some supermarket shopping in a different part of town. I noticed that the roads were in a grid pattern, and then spotted road name, which said Standard Way. I realised that I was driving through where the old Triumph car factory used to be. However, where that huge factory employing hundreds, if not thousands, of people with all kinds of manufacturing and engineering skills had once been, there was now a Sainsbury’s, a Blockbuster video shop, and over the way a tortilla chip factory. New life had returned to that area of the city, but it was a limited, restricted, relatively unskilled and limited life.

Life after losing someone can feel like that too – hollowed out and limited in scope. Life goes on, of course, and we can function in our everyday tasks, but it isn’t like it used to be. For me bereavement certainly robbed me of motivation, energy, and the capacity to cope with a lot of things going on at once. It’s taken time to feel able to resume work at anything approaching what used to be a normal pace. It also makes new possibilities hard to imagine. I just need to get through….

The Old and The New
But I’d like to share one other image that has helped me recently – that of Coventry cathedral. When the old cathedral was destroyed, they took the brave decision not to restore it to how it used to be. Instead, a new cathedral was built at right angles to the old one, with steps leading down out of the old church ruins towards the entry of the new. The end of the new cathedral is glass, so you can see the ruins from the new, and the new cathedral from the old. And they are an integrated unit – both sort of depend on the other to work. On Easter morning when it’s still dark, they light a brazier, and then light a new paschal candle, and bring it down into the dark new cathedral, and then light is shared. The light starts in the old and finishes in the new.

That’s my hope for however much life I have left. I can’t rebuild or replicate my life with Debbie. That’s complete and, in a very real way, safe in God’s hands. And isn’t that image in our reading lovely – not only are souls safe, but they run like sparks through a field. There’s energy, life and joy in that picture. A life we do not yet share, but a hope for those we love and for us one day.

And whatever happens next mustn’t erase what has happened – that would be like bulldozers knocking down the old cathedral to make way for the new. Instead, the next bit of my life needs to be like the walk I have often taken from the ruins down into the new cathedral. At the moment, I feel like I’m on those steps – I can see partially into a new life ahead of me, but I’m not in it yet. Later, I hope to be inside something new, and able to look back and treasure the view of the old, and whatever the future is like, it will depend on and be shaped by what has gone before, but it won’t and it cannot be the same.

Some of here will feel like the destruction of life as it used to be is still fresh. Others of us will feel we are still tracing the outlines of what used to be, as we take in what has happened. Most, if not all will have some sense of life carrying on, but in a more limited and changed way than we had ever imagined.

However, we do have hope in a God who is with us in all of this. I hope our prayer tonight will be that we can all find ways to be thankful for all the good that has been, to be freed from memories that are harder to live with, and to have faith that there may be for us a new vision for what life might be in the future.

Mike Peatman

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