Good Grief

I have fond memories of my nan. Sadly, she died a few weeks ago. She had been suffering from vascular dementia which rapidly progressed.

She was famous in my mind for her Jaffa Cake trifles and mince pies! I remember holidays together in caravans and cottages. She had an enormous collection of teddy bears, and she was an avid Countdown fan and enjoyed crosswords – she had a sharp mind and a quick sense of humour, which made her dementia all the more ironic and sad. But most importantly, I remember her love for God, and her love for us – her family.

I’m grateful that I returned to the UK in time for my nan to get to meet my daughter Amie. Nonetheless it was upsetting to see her confused – dementia is a horrible disease for all concerned. And to think that she died during the lockdown, meaning that we weren’t able to go and see her or attend the funeral.

Deaths not related to the coronavirus are much increased at this moment in time, pointing to some of the difficulties that the lockdown is causing. The UK’s mortality rate is at a 20-year high, and of course Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of more people in this country than any other in Europe, and more than the number killed during the Blitz.

Over 250,000 lives have been lost worldwide as a result of this pandemic, and people are being forced to come face-to-face with the elephant in the room that we don’t like to think or talk about – death.

I remember the first time I saw a dead person; I was working in Good Hope Hospital as a Ward Host, preparing food and drinks for patients. I asked a gentleman what he wanted for breakfast but when I returned with his sausages and toast he had died. Now I’m sorry to say that I’m relieved that he passed away before he ate his breakfast rather than afterwards, otherwise my culinary confidence would have been shattered! But I was nonetheless shocked in that moment to be looking at a corpse with a blank stare, and I naturally questioned where he was, and what happens after we die.

This week on Netflix the second series of a popular comedy/drama was released. I’m not going to mention it’s name because I can’t recommend anyone watch it, just as Donald couldn’t recommend The Life of Brian! It’s certainly not appropriate for children and there are things in it which could offend. But as a Pastoral Worker it’s of interest because the premise of the

story is about a man coming to terms with the death of his wife and his searching for peace, purpose and hope during his grief, so it’s quite topical for this hour.

The writer and main actor is a well-known atheist and therefore doesn’t come from a position of faith, and his message is that we should make the most of life and try to be happy, because this is all there is and when it’s gone… it’s gone!

Now as a Christian I don’t believe that this life is all there is, but I do agree that acknowledging rather than ignoring the finiteness of our lives helps us to make the most of them.

Psalm 90 is the oldest of all the Psalms and was written by Moses. In it he considers life’s shortness – he says a thousand years are as a day in God’s sight that soon wither away like grass. He then claims an average life span is between 70 and 80 years, though of course not everyone lives to be that old, while others live to be much older.

When I spoke on Job in January I mentioned a 14 year old girl who was critically ill with cancer. Sadly she passed away the following week, despite her faith in Jesus. On the other hand, some like Captain Tom make their century!

I recently celebrated my 35th birthday with many of you during one of our Sunday Livestreams (which was surreal but nice)! I’m halfway to 70, so 50% done according to Moses! But of course, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for any of us. Maybe I will die tonight – only God knows. But Moses’ conclusion was this:

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Living in light of the fact that we will eventually die encourages us to use our time wisely. Indeed, some would say that time is our greatest resource.

But acknowledging death as matter of fact is not to say that we should become numb or indifferent towards it. Grief is an important emotion and process. We grieve for loved ones because we attest to the preciousness of their lives.

Maybe you can think of people who have been recently bereaved and are grieving. I think of my grandpa in particular. Is death truly the end? Is there nothing beyond only the here and now?

The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica, said:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again.

Paul didn’t say “do not grieve” – it’s right and natural to feel sorrow for those we care for who have passed away. There is a sadness at having to say goodbye, and of course we miss people. Even Jesus wept when he went to his friend Lazarus’ grave.

No, Paul said do not grieve like those who have no hope – who don’t see beyond this fleeting and fragile life.

He put it like this to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:33

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Isn’t that an accurate description of how many people live.

1 Corinthians 15:20, 54

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… Death has been swallowed up in victory.

For us who believe that Jesus died and rose again, there is a hope that goes beyond the disappointment and heartbreak of this life.

Though Jesus shed tears for Lazarus, he went on to raise him from the dead as a sign of his power, saying:

John 11:25-26

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

And that is Jesus’ question to each one of us today: do we believe that he is the resurrection and the life?

Because it’s either true or it’s false – either Jesus is dead or alive. If Jesus is dead, then life is ultimately hopeless for death will surely be victorious over everyone. But if Jesus is alive… well, that changes everything!

God’s not dead; He is alive! He brings life, resurrecting those who seem alive on the outside but are inwardly dead, and one day raising those who seem dead on the outside but are spiritually alive. For…

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Jesus rose from the grave. And because of his resurrection we can have hope, even in our grief. He weeps with us, but death is not the end, rather it is the gateway to life. For…

1 Corinthians 15:55

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting