Minister's Message

Easter 2015

The Last Enemy
As a Christian minister it is always a great privilege to be called alongside people at times of bereavement. It's never an easy time for those left behind. Each situation is different and, depending on the circumstances, there can be a widely differing range of responses to the loss. These can vary from a sense of tragedy and an agonising, heartfelt sense of grief to a feeling of relief, either for the person who has died and may have been suffering greatly or sometimes for the person bereaved if the relationship has been very difficult.
Responses also vary greatly depending on attitudes to life and death and the understanding of what lies beyond (if anything). Questions of faith naturally play a large part in that.
A popular funeral reading is found in the words of Henry Scott Holland in his poem “Death is Nothing at all”. It begins:
Death is nothing at all, I have only slipped away into the next room....
And continues later:
Speak to me in the way which you always did, put no difference into your tone....
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as ever it was....
Nothing is past or lost....
All is well.
But is this true? Is death really 'nothing at all'? Is it really the case that nothing has changed and nothing is lost? While I can understand the attempt to bring some sense of comfort, nevertheless there is something within me which protests against these ideas. Things have changed. It is no longer possible to speak to the person as before. Something has been lost.
The Bible never trivialises the meaning of death and it always regards it as an enemy. We were created for life, not for sorrow, sickness or death. These things were never part of God's purpose for humanity. They are intruders and are unjustly distributed among us.
While the Bible has much to say about how this situation has arisen it also speaks very clearly of God's implacable opposition to it and engagement with it, to the point where he enters in upon the world himself in Christ, suffering alongside us, walking in our shoes and ultimately dying our death – all with the purpose of delivering us from the tragedy in which we find ourselves and restoring his original purpose of life in its fullness.
The events of Easter are a crucial insight into the nature of God. They reveal something of his love and faithfulness to humanity; his deep concern for us and the lengths to which he is prepared to go in order to lift us free from our predicament. Yet they also demonstrate a great victory won in our name and on our behalf. All he did was done as a man and as our representative. The death of Christ was not 'nothing at all' and neither was the resurrection. It cost God to do this. 
Our lives are still painfully assaulted by these things, yet there is a power and presence available to us in the midst of them – the power and presence of One who has 'been there' – and there is a way of rising through them. Yet this is not by the trivialising of such realities but by facing them in truth and finding a way opened up beyond them. The resurrection restores, renews and re-establishes life and Christ calls us in faith to lay hold of it.
Some verses:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  (II Corinthians 1:3,4)
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death....”  (I Corinthians 15:26)
“Death has been swallowed up into victory... Where. O death is your sting?... Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ...  (I Corinthians 15:54-57)
“Since [God's] children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.... Because he himself suffered when under trial, he is able to help those who are undergoing trial.”   (Hebrews 2:14-15, 18)

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