On Saturday I went to a wedding. It was a joyous occasion, the church packed with young people, the rain just about holding off as we joined the reception guests at a local school for an afternoon and evening of food and drink, laughter and memories, speeches and jokes, with friends old and new. Everyone looks their best at a wedding – I loved my new dress! – and witnessing the culmination of months of planning and hoping which is also the start of a whole new life, is a huge privilege. My young friend Sarah, the beautiful bride, was a picture of pure JOY!
‘For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death us do part’ – the covenant promise that so many find it impossible to keep. Indeed these days when I see young couples, especially with a new baby or two young children, part of me groans and turns away in pain: ‘Lord, they just don’t know what life has in store – they just don’t know how painful it could be!’ My own bitter experience has made me wary and would challenge my faith in the triumph of love and goodness! Yet each of us can only live the lives ordained for us and I do also know that whatever that may mean, there is always a way through with Jesus – even through the worst things there can be faithfulness and redemption making the impossible possible.
Today I go to my oldest friend’s funeral: Helen died of secondary cancer just weeks before her 55th birthday. Of course it will be sad and I know there will be tears – it is only right to mourn and grieve what is lost. I will not see her or talk with her again on this earth, Martin will not be able to share silly jokes with her by text and we had better keep in mind all the wisdom she shared with us because she won’t be coming to visit again: we have lost a dear sister, her son a loving mother.
Yet she is not lost! She is saved, she is with the Lord, she is in Paradise. That is what we believe… safe forever – and one day we will meet her again there – or at the resurrection and the Lord’s coming! It is a day of sadness, but also of hope and gratitude. I am glad I have this opportunity to go and say goodbye.
I have blogged about mortality before, these life events of birth, marriage and death mark out our lives: it is ‘made up of meetings and partings that is the way of it’ – as Bob Cratchit says in Muppet Christmas Carol. Or as Dickens himself said, ‘Life is made of ever so many partings welded together’ We do tend to forget the transitory nature of things, filling our lives with trying to succeed or make money. Surely the most appropriate response to the certain brevity of life is to be grateful for what (and who) we have and make the most of it all. As the wise Teacher says, ‘I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live; that everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God’ Ecclesiastes 3v12-13
I presume those who do not believe in God have to do that, in their own way, though it must be hard not having Someone to thank. Remember the poster campaign by arch-atheist Richard Dawkins on the side of buses: ‘There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life’? Our local Salvation Army hall responded with, ‘There probably is a God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life’! The psalmist puts it this way:
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16v5-11
That is what Helen lived and died believing. The end of the psalm foretells of Jesus’ resurrection – His actual Body really did not decay. David’s understanding that he would ‘not be abandoned to the grave’ has found fulfilment in what Jesus has promised: one day we will all have new bodies and be with Him for eternity. We will be filled with joy like Sarah at her wedding!
But until that time, He sets the ‘boundary lines in pleasant places’ and counsels and instructs our hearts. He Himself promises to be our food and drink and security – ‘for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ – until we die… and forever!