Over these first weeks of 2014 we have experienced the death of three beloved members of our congregation. That is a lot to hold in such a short time. Some of us are feeling the weight of grief and loss quite keenly. Of course, the closer you are to someone who dies, the more you will feel the emotions of the loss.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the beautiful assurance of eternal life. As a priest, I am privileged to be present with families at the intimate moments of death and dying. Each time I attend someone who is dying or say prayers at time of death, I experience the truth of that beautiful assurance. A death, like a birth, is the beginning of a whole new life.
The Burial service in our Book of Common Prayer provides a beautiful structure and language for our grief and loss at these times. Without support, grief and loss can lead us to despair and sadness. The Burial service allows us, together as a community, to carry our grief and loss while we celebrate our loved one’s life with hope and gratitude. That is the value of our worship when one of our own has died. Grief carried alone can grim and painful. Grief carried together in loving community has a sweetness and hopefulness. When we cry together and pray together and remember those who have died, we are able to celebrate the life and even to experience our connection to those who have gone on before us.
Eternal life is real, and we are invited to participate in that wonderful and holy way of living now. When we worship together and celebrate the lives of our loved ones who die, we are keenly aware of the connections we share, both in life and in death. Our hope is not in vain. Our hope is based on the love God has given us and that we experience in loving community as brothers and sisters in Christ. That love, and the relationships we form in that love, is the present reality of eternal life that transcends even death.