We are here tonight to remember and give thanks for the lives of those of our St John’s family who died as a direct result of the dreadful flu epidemic which spread through so much of Eastern Australia with devastating effect. Mary, John, Frediswenda, Carlo, Gary, Valma, Betty and John were coming to the end of their mortal lives. They were already frail, and so not able to withstand the influenza virus and its fatal consequences.
How do we make sense of events such as these which challenge us personally and as an organization? Each family has lost someone they have loved. Our staff have lost residents they were committed to care for, and as an organization we have had to examine all of our systems and procedures despite which the influenza virus took such a toll.
I wonder if I can take a moment or two to identify three gifts which might help us all deal with these challenging events.
The first gift I want to reflect on is the gift of a life. Every one of these eight we are remembering lived a full life. Each had done things, had known family and friends, had contributed to the rich tapestry of community, had been a part of the life of St John’s Village.
When you sift out all that doesn’t matter, all that doesn’t have lasting impact it becomes clear that there is only one enduring gift that a human being has to share; and that is the gift of their life. Each of our residents shared that gift, with family, with friends, in community. The extraordinary thing is that the gift of a life is a unique gift. We each take from and appreciate the gift of the other in a way which is ours alone. Mary, John, Frediswenda, Carlo, Gary, Valma, Betty and John have given this gift in their own way to all of those in their circle of care and love.
It is important to recognize the gift which each has given – to unwrap it and handle it with care. It ois their loving and enduring gift to each one they have touched and nothing can take away that precious gift. Their lives mattered; and should be acknowledged and honoured.
Thank God for the gift of their lives.
The second gift is the gift of tears. I know that each of them was old and frail, so that at a level their deaths were not totally unexpected. But my experience is that you can never fully prepare yourself to deal with the reality of that loss. There is a love shaped hole which that person used to fill. That is the harsh reality of death.
Grief is a hard thing to face. But face it we must. We human beings don’t relish pain. So the temptation is to sidestep. To shield ourselves. To avoid grief- to kid ourselves that we can just carry on regardless. But grief cannot be avoided. It needs to be tackled head on. Grief avoided sneaks up on you when you least expect it – with damaging consequences.
So if the tears come, now or later, don’t block them. Embrace them. Tears are healing – in a real sense tears are the cost of love.
Thank God for the gift of tears.
Third gift – the gift of faith. St John’s Village is a ministry of the Anglican Church. In a real sense this chapel defines our purpose. Not that our ministry is confined to Anglicans alone. That is the message we learn from Jesus. The gift of grace is a gift universally given – all may receive it irrespective of denomination, of faith, even of belief.
In the upper room, after the last supper when Jesus washed the disciples feet as a demonstration of the power of love in service, he moved on to reassure them that their future was secure. Whatever life was to bring, they were cared for by God their father.
In my Father’s house, he said, there are many dwelling-places. God knows each human heart, and make provision for each in the kingdom of heaven. So we need not be troubled.
Yes we Christians grieve. But we do not grieve as people without hope. We know that the death of the mortal body is not an end, but rather a transition. The old hymn tells us, Jesus lives. Henceforth is death not for us a gloomy portal when we take our final breath, but the gate to life immortal.
That beautiful passage we heard from the Revelation to St John speaks of a God who care for us personally, deeply, intimately.
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
This was the reading I chose for the funerals both of my mother and father. And it is in the light of this assurance that Jesus can tell his disciples and us, Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Thank God for the gift of faith.
So my brothers and sisters as we commend these loved ones into God’s nearer presence, may these three gifts strengthen and encourage you as you continue life’s Journey. And may you in your time know the peace of God, which passes all understanding. And may that peace comfort and sustain you through all the changes and chances of this fleeting life.