Sunday, November 5, 2017

Dying, Death and What's Beyond

Text of the Week: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any who are worshipping with us for the first time.

It’s amazing how soon it gets dark in the evening once the clocks go back! It’s not inappropriate that it is at this time of the year that our thoughts turn to remembrance. All hallows’ eve on 31st October is followed by All Saints’ Day on 1st November and followed hard on its heels on the nearest Sunday to 11th November by Remembrance Sunday. And yet, it can be very difficult actually to think and talk about dying, death and what’s beyond. That’s what we are going to do in today’s services. 

It’s not possible to approach such a theme without having a very specific context. Each of us will have our own thoughts as we remember loved ones and as we reflect on ourselves. And each of us will be different. But we do have a shared framework that helps us not only in our thinking but in the help and support we can give each other. We are going to set our reflections on the theme of dying, death and what’s beyond in the context of the Easter story of resurrection victory. 

After the morning service at around 12-15 you are invited to join us for a very simple soup and bread lunch in the Café space when we are going to have the opportunity to chat through the things we’ll be sharing in our morning service.

We live-streamed this morning's service and one of our young people sat with one of our older members in a Care Home in Cheltenham so that she could share in our worship.

Call to Worship

419 Thine be the glory

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Open the Book at Easter

Reading: John 20:29-31

Jesus said to Thomas,

‘Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Hy-Spirit Song - See What a Morning

Activities for all over 3

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

We did our fireworks party on Friday night.

On Hallowe’en the streets between here and Prestbury seemed to be teeming with small bands of children in all manner of ghoulish costumes while in here we had a wonderful Messy Church with all the games you associate and the fun of being here in the dark – but we were celebrating the light of life.

Next Sunday we’ll mark Remembrance Sunday.

Maybe it’s appropriate with the arrival of the dark evenings that this is the season of remembrance.

But one day in this time of the year we have in one sense missed out. It’s the day Hallow e’en is the eve of. If 31st October is All Hallows Eve, the 1st November is All Saints Day.

The darkness gives way to a celebration of the light of life – maybe actually we didn’t so much miss it out as roll it all into one with our Messy Church Starlight party celebrating the Light of Life.

Miss out All Saints Day – or that Celebration of the Light of Life and it is so easy at this time of year to be overwhelmed by the darkness, the sadness, the darker side of remembrance.

But actually our Christian faith gives us a framework not just for the living of life to the full, loving God, loving our neighbour … it also gives us a framework for dying, death and what’s beyond.

They are so often taboo subjects not to be spoken of. But they are subjects it’s good to talk about … especially if you have such a framework!


It was great a couple of weeks ago having Felicity’s sister, Angela, with us – when her husband Jan collapsed at the local Sports Centre in Market Harborough he didn’t regain consciousness and died a number of years later. In his care and in his administering the family affairs Angela had a nightmare. She has been passionate ever since about people making sure they have written a will and done both kinds of Lasting Power of Attorney. 

We can now all of us make arrangements for what should happen when we are approaching our dying day. There are two types of Lasting Power of Attorney – one for property and financial affairs and one for health and welfare. Easy enough to fill in online – or seek advice from Age UK or a solicitor they prompt you to talk about the future with those closest to you. I do not believe in euthanasia but it concerns me that modern medicine is able to prolong life in a way that is neither natural nor helpful. And so I have spelled out, very briefly, my desire to allow nature to take its course and to have treatment to alleviate pain and distress even if that results in a shortening of my life. It’s good to make plans ahead – but with that framework we have I think we have more to offer as well.

It’s one of the great privileges I have to be able to share with people in those times as well – and it’s something I believe we have to share. Our faith does not enable us to escape what lies ahead but our faith offers us a presence and a strength through all that lies ahead.

To my mind, the 23rd Psalm says it all –

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

It’s like a journey – I can accompany someone so far on that journey … but there comes a point when I can go no further – but at that point there is a presence – you are not alone

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

That's not just a theory. It's not just a kind of philosophical idea. For me it is rooted in the reality of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus with me. I couple the words of the 23rd Psalm with the words Jesus shared with his closest friends shortly before he himself died in John 14.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.
If it were not so, would I have told you
that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you may be also.


But what of death?

What kind of poem are you drawn to at a funeral – they range from the anger of Dylan Thomas at the death of his father

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

… to the other extreme

Death is nothing at all …

On a tiny handful of occasions I have seen the value of that last one ... but I have to confess I find those words hard.

Death is something. It’s something massive. A while back they used to say there was a grieving process you went through – I’m more drawn to the notion that there is a massive hotch potch of emotions around death and bereavement to work through and no easy path to follow. Loss, bereavement matters. If Jesus wept at the close loss of his friend Lazarus we should not be surprised if all sorts of tears come to us as well. Anger, denial, numbness, a kind of bargaining – if only I had been there or done that it wouldn’t have happened – guilt – sadness. And I have to acknowledge it gets the better of me – I’ve found I’ve had to turn to Cruse Bereavement Care, to Winston’s Wish, th charity for bereaved children, that we will be supporting at Christmas in its work with children who are bereaved, to  SANDS the stillbirth and neonatal deathcharity, to SOBS for survivors of bereavement by suicide. They each provide help that’s so valuable.

But our framework gives us something else to turn to.

What's Beyond

 If Jesus wept with Mary who at the loss of her brother didn’t want to talk, he shared something else with Martha:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11)

I don’t believe in life just going on. I don’t think in terms of a soul or a spirit let loose. I look to Jesus…

Jesus really was crucified, dead and buried. But on the third day he rose again from the dead. I want to say with Paul,

thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)

Two pictures I have found helpful. One is the seed – left on the shelf it remains a seed – buried in the soil a plant comes to life that is so much more wonderful than the seed.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
What is sown is perishable,
            what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonour,
            it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness,
            it is raised in power.
It is sown a physical body,
            it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15)

And the other picture is of sleep. - a poem I’ve always been drawn to is John Donne – I love his defiance - Death, be not proud!

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!

HTC 169 I know my Redeemer lives

Through the valley

We shared a very moving conversation with Janet ( Click to this link to the conversation with Janet and move the slider bar forward to 1 hour 12')  who grew up going to church, came back to church when her youngsters were little and then came to make a faith commitment as an adult and no longer as a child that meant the world to her. Over a couple of years she found herself working out her faith and what it meant to her.

From the age of 12 she had had a kidney condition from which she had recovered. Having spent a long time in hospital she was drawn to work in hospitals and became a physiotherapist.

About twenty-five years ago her condition deterioriated to the point at which she knew that she was in the final stages of renal failure and therefore very near death. She found it was the fact that she had worked through what her faith meant to her that stood her in good stead.

At those moments when she found it hard to pray for herself she found it a great source of strength to know that the church family and many more were praying for her.

Seventeen years ago she was called to hospital in Bristol and had a day undergoing tests to see if the donor from whom she was to receive a kidney transplant was 'compatible' with her. All was well ... and she had a kidney transplant.

Janet shared with us how indebted she was to that person who had donated their kidneys, to their family who had given permission for them to be used knowing that in their sadness someone else would have a new lease of life, and to the medical people who made it all possible.

Janet has had a new lease of life, continued to work as a Physiotherapist and continues to this day to be very involved in church. It was moving to hear her describe how her faith had stood her in good stead.

Janet urged us all to sign up to the Donor Register, suggesting that if we would be prepared to receive a transplant at some point in the future we should also be prepared to give. You can sign up for organ donation by clicking on this link.

At our sunrise service this Easter on Cleeve Hill looking over to the Malverns we began with this song …

Song: In the secret, in the quiet place

Prayers of Concern – led by Hy-Tide

436 Christ triumphant

Words of Blessing

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