Tag Archives: comfort

Address – SANDS service, Crichton Memorial Church, 19/12/2013

I heard of a very strange auction that was held back in the 1920s in America.

Not the usual items that you find on all these daytime TV antique shows that I watch if Jeremy Kyle isn’t on (what an admission! – well, I am retired….and one’s got to watch something before “Pointless” comes on at 5.15!)

The items in this particular auction consisted of 150,000 patented models of old inventions which hadn’t really worked nor caught the imagination of the buying public.

There was, for example, a “bed-bug buster” and an “illuminated cat” that was designed to scare away mice.

Then there was a device to prevent snoring: a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear; and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbours.

And then there was the adjustable pulpit that could be raised or lowered according to the height of the preacher. Tall minister – UP it goes! Wee bauchle like myself – the lowest setting

Well all or most of these 150,000 items caused a lot of mirth amongst the bidders.

But for 150,000 others, it was no laughing matter, for these were the inventors.

These 150,000 old patent models also represent 150,000 broken dreams.

They represented disappointment, of hard work and love and time and patience that had come to nothing

Most of us – particularly this evening know about broken dreams and disappointments

‘Tis the season to be jolly. But it’s not jolly for everybody, is it? For those who have lost loved ones this can the hardest part of the year.

I love Christmas.

But this Christmas will be the first I’ve spent at home without my wife who died last year.

She used to sit opposite me at the other end of the dining room table – but her chair is empty – she’s gone.

How many of you have “empty chairs” in your hearts, particularly at this time of year?

Most of you; most of us.

Whatever the time of year, for many of us gathered here, life can be a difficult – Christmas or any other time and especially, when events trigger a thought or a feeling that brings it all back to us – the disappointment, the unfairness of it all, perhaps even a creeping sense of bitterness or resentment that others have fuller family lives than we do.

The family side of Christmas is important, of course it is.

But deeper within those of us who are people of faith, it is the appreciation of the tremendous gift of salvation given as God in Christ stepped into time at Bethlehem to accomplish our salvation that is most important.

Salvation – it means saving from sin, of course. But, non theologically speaking – are we not saved also from ourselves, from bitterness and sorrow, negativity and a sense of unfairness? Perhaps even from envy and resentment that others have what should have, ought to have?

And what does one do with this appreciation? How do we please God during this season?

One way is by reaching out to others, especially when we are sorrowful

We who have been through the “ the valley of the shadow” can end up being a comfort for those who walk in darkness.

Happy or sad, may the Lord Jesus bless your Christmas with joyful thanksgiving of what Almighty God did to make a way for us to be renewed with peace , because of that first Christmas.

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At that hour: dealing with death

 from the Independent

Why our Irish compatriots ‘do death’ better than us



Early one morning, a year ago this month, the thing I’d always dreaded happening, happened. My mother had gone to bed the night before seeming fine, but suffered a massive stroke in her sleep. In a blur of tears and panic, I packed a few things and rushed to Heathrow, willing her to stay alive, at least until I got to the hospital in Ireland.

Three days later, my siblings and I were standing in the family home, next to an open coffin, shaking hands with people who queued down the street to offer sympathy. For nearly four hours, they came. By magic, the kitchen had filled with a small army of volunteers making sandwiches and tea, and passing around plates of apple tart.

By the time we buried my mother at the end of that August week, hundreds of people had arrived or been in contact and we’d experienced an outpouring of warmth, support, affection – and food. We could have filled the freezer several times with the home-made cakes, scones and casseroles that simply arrived. One person appeared at the front door and handed in a side of fresh salmon prepared on a baking tray dotted with lemon and dill. “Twenty-five minutes, hot oven,” is all she said, before rushing off.

Back in England, individual friends or colleagues who had themselves experienced bereavement wrote me letters or made phone calls so empathic they were heartbreaking. But for many others it was as if nothing had happened. I began to wonder if, for the English, death was either a private matter which would be indecent or even embarrassing to refer to, or that they had no idea what to say. Another possibility is they simply didn’t know.

In Ireland, passing on the news quickly is considered an important part of the response to death and this is not just in villages or small towns. My brother received a letter of condolence from the chief executive of the very large organisation he works for. It is standard practice for HR departments to send an email around when someone loses a family member. My boss in London had been very supportive, but I thought guiltily of work colleagues whose parents or spouses may have died and whose loss I had failed to acknowledge. Yet unless they had worn a black armband, how would anyone in a big workplace even know of their sorrow?

The Irish are not known for being any less emotionally repressed than their British neighbours but they do death very well. Funerals come with up to three opportunities for mourners to show up: there’s the waking of the body, which is often in the home, the “removal” to the church, and, on the final day, a funeral mass and burial followed by a reception or meal.

My friends in the UK asked me about the open coffin with a mix of fascination and horror. I didn’t tell them how my mother’s grandchildren had knelt up on chairs to get a proper look, and to place drawings beside her, or how we’d rearranged her fringe because the undertaker had made it too fussy.

To English friends, it all “sounded ghastly”. But perhaps they are used to a culture where death remains taboo even when it’s staring you in the face. One UK friend’s mother died in her fifties after a short illness. “You are invited to the funeral,” he’d said very formally. I knew that the family members were devastated but it struck me as rather sad that only a handful of people were there as they said goodbye to her. Perhaps they could not bear to feel pitied.

In Ireland, it is considered unsupportive not to show up if you know either the dead person or their family. This has much more to do with community, and perhaps psychology, than with faith. Many Irish people are now Catholics in name only but the rituals that have evolved endure and are, in my view, worth hanging on to.

Such rituals equip people with perhaps formulaic but extremely useful things to say and ways in which to act. They don’t need to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” – they know what the routine is so they just do it. One family I know awoke the day of the wake to find a neighbour hoovering their stairs. Embarrassment doesn’t come into it.

My mother died in the busy stroke unit at an overstretched hospital but nurses behaved in keeping with what is a profound, almost sacred moment for the family. They lit candles and placed a Celtic “triskele” (a pre-Christian symbol of life, death and rebirth) on the door of her room to alert other staff and patients. They covered her in an elegant purple drape and, when we eventually left, they hugged us, handing over a woven bag, her things neatly folded inside. When it seems unbearable that your mother has just died and the rest of the world is carrying on as normal, these gestures are comforting. From then to the burial four days later was intense. We were scarcely left alone for five minutes, but I think that intensity has an important healing effect.

This past year has taught me that grief is not linear. It can creep up again suddenly, just when you think you are emerging into the light. You see somebody who reminds you of the person who’s gone. Or, for a split second, you forget they’re not alive and then feel overwhelmed in odd places, as I did months later one day, queuing to buy a sandwich.

But if the culture in which you live regards death as individual or private, then you have little choice but to keep quiet about it. I suspect the cost to the NHS for treating depression or other illnesses related to it, and the cost to employers in days lost to stress leave for staff dealing with bereavement in isolation, is high.

Speaking about the death of her son, the broadcaster Libby Purves described how she felt it her duty to make other people think she was OK, otherwise they would have avoided her. “You have to make it all right for others. You want to create a feeling of casualness so that you don’t become the poor old creature nobody speaks to because they have been through tragic tragic-ness.”

To me, that seems like an extraordinary burden to place on the grieving person. I feel fortunate to come from a culture where death is part of life and people take it upon themselves to pick up the phone, send a message and, above all, keep talking you through it.

I returned this month to my home town for a small family event to mark my mother’s first anniversary and was again struck by the readiness with which local people referred to her passing, devoid of awkwardness or indeed pity. In the butcher’s, the supermarket and the hardware store as I paid for a tin of paint, I was greeted with variations on: “Your mother was a fine woman, the Lord have mercy on her” or “Hard to believe it’s been a year since your mum went”.

In Britain, death seems to be regarded as something so awful that it is best contained in the immediate family or with a counsellor if circumstances are traumatic. Perhaps there is a connection with it also being a society where even a natural, peaceful death is a medical event which few ever witness, and where the old and chronically ill are hidden away. Would attitudes to ageing be more compassionate and attitudes to life itself more fulfilling if funerals were not regarded as necessarily ghastly and mortality as something that happens only to other, less lucky people?

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Doubting Thomas

Why did Thomas need to see Jesus’ wounds in order to make this confession of Jesus as Lord?

For Thomas Jesus needed to do something new, something different. He needed to show his vulnerability. So Jesus appeared wounds and all and held his pierced hands out to Thomas who had doubted. It was in the wounds of Jesus that Thomas found comfort.

The wounds of Christ comfort us

I’m not sure that we ever see anything good in wounds. For the most part we try to hide our own wounds.

But what we forget is that these wounds are the force that binds creation together. Wounds are what prove and test our humanity. Through wounds the brokenness of Humanity was overcome. Though wounds the healing work of Christ commenced.

Through wounds the healing work of Christ continues. Humanity is famously good at acknowledging difference. But also famously good at understanding suffering at feeling the pain of other people’s wounds.

Wounds, while we hide them and deny them are true signs of our humanity. God’s power to overcome the wounds of Christ for our sake is a true sign of God’s gracious love for us

There’s a story told of an elderly man who lived in Mississippi – he was badly affected by Hurricane Katrina which also, of course, devastated Louisiana and New Orleans

His home was destroyed. He was not allowed back in because his health was poor. The frame of the house was really all that was salvageable. The cleaning crew cried as they tore down and threw out rotting pictures of his deceased wife and then even the very wall that held the pictures.

When the house was finally gutted they brought in a table and he was excited to provide dinner for them. The food was ordered in, because there was no kitchen to prepare it

And as they ate he told them stories of his home, now simply beams and foundation that had housed his  marriage, his children, their first dates, his wife as she had died, the life of an entire family all of which the crew had seen evidence of that they had to throw out.

He shed a few tears as he spoke because the wounds were still there. His healing wouldn’t be easy in this new place that used to be his home but because others understood what it was to be wounded and what it meant to live as servants of a wounded Christ his first memory in this new, old place was of Christian fellowship and powerful healing.


Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen (or Terbrugghen) (1588 – 1 November 1629)

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