Tag Archives: death

A funeral for Jesus

Death is hard to grasp.  Our mind recoils at it, and sometimes denies it.  When someone we love dies, part of us can go on believing that it isn’t true.  Even when we’ve seen someone die with our own eyes, we can still be in denial.

One of the ways we come to terms with death is by ritualizing the ending of someone’s life.  We get together in groups and perform certain actions and say certain words when someone dies.  We call this a funeral.  The funeral is not “for” the dead person, as much as it is “for” the people left behind, to help them acknowledge that death has happened.

Tomorrow, our Good Friday service is structured as a funeral for Jesus.  Of course, when Jesus died, there was no funeral. He had been executed by the state, his body was hurriedly buried by a few friends, anxious to finish preparations for burial before the Sabbath.

I’ve structured the service in this way because a funeral ritual is the way in our culture we come to terms with death.   Perhaps by following this form, we can come to a deeper understanding of what happened on Good Friday.  What were his friends, his family feeling or thinking the day he died?  How were they making sense of what happened?

Today, of course, when someone dies, we take great comfort in the resurrection, and that Jesus conquered death.  But for those friends mourning Jesus’ death, there was no such comfort.  Their hopes and dreams seem shattered.  They would have felt shell-shocked (although that word had not been invented yet) by watching their friend be tortured and die a gruesome death.

Good Friday is a time to face death and look it squarely in the eye.  That’s what Jesus did.  Join us in our service this year, to enter into this holy time of passion.

This week’s prayer:  (a verse from the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”  a hymn whose words are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153)

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

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Death wish

John Boswell, a great writer in the 1700’s famously said, “To know one will die in a fortnight marvellously clarifies the mind.”  Looking at death can clarify our thinking about life.  What is life about?  What is essential?  Where is God in my life and my death?

When I worked as a chaplain in a Catholic hospital, I met many people who regularly said a prayer called the Rosary, where they ask Mary to “pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death.”  At first I thought that was a very morbid prayer;  it’s a prayer that is said many many times, and I wondered how helpful it is to be thinking about the hour of your death all the time.  But after seeing that prayer at work in the lives of many faithful people, I’ve changed my mind.

I remember being with an elderly woman who was dying; we were waiting for her family to arrive, but she was fading fast. In fact, she died before her family got there.    I had a chance later to talk to the daughter as she sat with the body of her mother.  She felt so sad that she had not been there, and that her mother had died “alone”.  I asked her whether her mother had said the Rosary. “Yes, she said that every day.”  “Well, your mother prayed every day, thinking about the hour of her death…and this was it…this was the hour of her death.  I know God was here with her in that hour.”   This was something the daughter could hold onto…her mother had prepared well for the hour of her death.

This week is Eternity Sunday, the day we remember people who have died.  How do we prepare for death? What kind of death do you wish for?  How does thinking about death change the way we live now?

This week’s prayer:  In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

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How do we remember 9/11?

September 11 is coming up…a day that is seared in the memory of a generation of people. Close to 3,000 people were killed in the attacks that day, almost entirely civilian casualties (with the exception of some Pentagon personnel).  Casualties included firefighters and police who were responding to the attack when the towers collapsed.

Since Sunday is the tenth anniversary of this day, there has been a lot of coverage in the media, recalling the lives of people who died, and the effect this attack still has on people. Although 3000 is the number of casualties, many more were injured, and hundreds of thousands experienced post-traumatic stress because of what they witnessed, or through injury or the loss of a loved one.   It’s important for the Christian community to remember and pray for the suffering of all these people.

I have noticed, however, that there is very little coverage in the media about the deaths that were the result of the response to 9/11.  The United States and others (including Canada) launched a war on terror because of this event.  To not talk about the response is like trying to talk about the significance of the attack on Fort Sumter, without talking about the Civil War.  (For those of you who aren’t into American history, in April 1861 the Northern United States attacked Fort Sumter in the Southern United States and that started a civil war.)

Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, the United States and its allies attacked Afghanistan in “Operation Enduring Freedom”.  That war still continues.  Civilian casualties are very difficult to document in Afghanistan; I haven’t found a single source that will claim a number for the ten year war.  But many more thousands of people have been killed there than were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

The war in Iraq, which began in March 2003 and still continues, was also framed by America as a war on terror.  The Bush administration made allegations that Iraq had been involved in the 9/11 attacks to justify the war.   Because Iraq is more modernized, statistics are available, and the numbers are staggering.  There have been 100,000 – 150,000 casualties, up to 80%  of these are civilian.  Because of the Iraq war, 1.8 million people have become refugees from Iraq to other countries, while 1.6 million people were internally displaced.

I wonder who will make the news reports and films that document the human tragedy of these numbers.  They are all God’s children; as Christians we weep with those who weep, no matter which side of the conflict they are on.

It’s tempting to make 9/11 a day where we remember how we in the West were victimized.  Let’s instead make 9/11 a day of prayer, a day where we commit ourselves to work for peace between all people.

This week’s prayer:  God, we weep with all who weep.  We remember your American, Afghani and Iraqi children who have died; we pray for peace for our world. 

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A different sort of Christmas

This has been a different sort of Christmas for our family.  I haven’t written these past two weeks because we’ve been busy with a family funeral in Manitoba.  My husband’s father passed away after a short and thankfully mostly painless illness.

During our visit, there was time to reflect on a life and the impact that life had on you.  It was also a time to reflect on the passing of generations and the realization that everyone is getting older!  Nobody stays the same.

Jesus, by coming to earth, entered into this timebound world.  He came as a small baby, but like all babies, he quickly grew and left childhood and his youth behind (scripture gives only a few verses to all those years of his life).  Joseph, his earthly father, was nowhere to be seen during Jesus’ ministry, so Jesus probably helped to bury this man.  Jesus too must have reflected on the fleeting nature of time, and the passing of generations.

Incarnation is the fancy theological word to describe what happened when Jesus came to earth.  Incarnation means “taking on flesh”.  Another way to describe it is that Jesus was embodied…he took on  a human body.     As followers of this incarnated Saviour, we are challenged to embody Jesus.  We are called to give tangible or visible form to Jesus.  This time he will born in us.  Or is it us being born again?

This year I’m thinking about the mystery of Christmas and the meaning that we find in our earthbound, beautiful lives, lives that we share with Jesus, “God with us”.

This week’s prayer:  O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

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The Sweet Good-bye

At the last, let it be a sweet good-bye.
All business finished.
All affairs tidied.
All loose ends attended.
All regrets squared away.
All loved ones gathered.
All words of love spoken.
All life lived fully.
One last look,
one last squeeze of the hand,
one last deep breath,
one last sweet good-bye
and a final eager step towards Jesus. 

This week’s prayer:  We pray for sweet good-byes for those we love.  Amen.

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Entering into silence

This past week my husband attended a family funeral in Manitoba. His cousin’s wife was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 54. The grief was compounded by the fact that this cousin had lost his oldest son in a car accident 13 years ago, so this was the second time that same family had to deal with such a sudden shocking death.

As Eugene was getting ready to go to the airport, he asked whether I would write a card to them. I sat down, with the card in front of me, and thought about this family. I just was at a loss for words. In the end I said, “We can’t find words to express our sorrow. Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers constantly.”

Sometimes when faced with grief, we can just blurt things out, trying to say something, anything, to make the situation better. Some nice sounding religious words, “She’s in a better place now.” “God called her home.” I’ve sometimes said things like that. I think sometimes we are afraid to enter into the silence of grief, that lonely soul-searing place where all we can do is cry. The women who stood at the foot of the cross watching Jesus suffer entered into that type of silence.

How does God reach out to us in silence? What role does silence play in hearing the voice of God? I’m going to be talking about in my sermon this week. Maybe we’ll find some silence in our service too, just to try it out.

This week’s prayer:   _______________________________________________________________________.

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Saying good-bye

A friend in our First Mennonite community lost her mother this week. That’s a strange expression we use to talk about someone who died, “we lost them”. It’s true that we no longer see them, they are missing, they are missed. But as Christians we believe that they are not at all lost, but living with God.

They may not be lost but they are certainly gone from our world, and the feelings we have when our parents die are lasting and deep. This is true whether the relationship with your parents is a good one or a troubled one. Our parents raised us, shaped us, influenced us, and hopefully loved us into who we are. When they die, we become bereft, untethered for a time, feeling disconnected from the generation that birthed us. We suddenly realize that we are the next generation to go!

I have seen that in times of grief, churches can shine. They can come together and offer help in very practical ways. They can walk alongside the grieving, who are re-living memories. The telling and re-telling of stories can flood us with big emotions, and we need companions for this journey to hold our hands. Churches can also place the death in a context of meaning within the life of faith, they can offer hope for a future reunion. We pray for the grieving, and ask for God’s comfort and strength.

This week’s prayer: Comfort our friend who is grieving, and all in our community who are missing loved ones. Give hope and faith as we wait for a reunion, in the fullness of your time. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who rose from the dead.

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