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Memorial Service Sermon

On the news this week there was a focus on the unveiling of the world’s tallest statue. It is in memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel a leader of the movement for the independence of India.

It is twice as big as the Statue of Liberty and stands at 182 meters or 502 feet.

By contrast the Bridgewater Monument stands at 108 feet.

In every place you travel there are memorials. Some are to the great or important men and women of history, but most are often small and sometimes easily missed.

Last week we were on the Isle of Wight and at Culvers Point near Bembridge we walked past a monument to the Duke of Yarnborough and it is very impressive and stands out on the hill.

Yet, close to it on the coastal path family members had left small painted rocks in memory of their grandmother.

Something that is new is that you can dedicate a new gate on the path in memory of a family member.

In this churchyard there are benches and also more obviously gravestones.

These are all really important and a way of showing that people are not forgotten.

There was another story in the news that also spoke about being remembered but in a slightly different way.

The story was about a father who is dying of Motor Neurone Disease. He was quite open about the fact that time was precious and most likely short.

He described how the most important thing in his life was his wife and children and also how he loved being a dad.

He had spoken to a friend whose Dad had died when he was a child and he told him that it was birthdays that he felt the loss the most.

So he decided that he would write cards to both his sons who were aged 6 and 2 that they could open on their birthdays until they were 21.

Essentially they were antidotes, stories and most importantly he wanted them to know how much he loved them.

He put it in a very beautiful way: “although I will not be with them, his love would be part of them.”

Part of what we meet together to do this evening is to recognise, most likely with a mixture of sadness and thankfulness, the way in which the people we remember have shaped us and the love that we have for them and they had for us is possibly one of the most important things in our lives.

The experience of grief can be very hard and we may be struggling.

I was reading a book by Julia Samuels that deals with bereavement and defines it as “an intensely personal, contradictory, chaotic and unpredictable internal process.

If we are going to navigate it, we need to find a way to live the central paradox; that we must find a way of living with a reality that we don’t want to be true.”

“Our culture is imbued with the belief that we can fix just about anything and make it better, or, if we can’t, that it’s possible to trash what we have and start all over again.

Greif is the antithesis of this belief; it eschews avoidance and requires endurance, and forces us to accept that there are some things in the world that cannot be fixed.”

Although it can seem a very lonely path there is something profoundly social about bereavement as it is something that we all face and I always hope that at this service there is some strength and comfort from meeting with others.

Whenever we put this service together it always close to the Service of All Souls and also the recognition that faith takes death very seriously.

The reading from John tells the story of the raising of Lazarus and what always strikes me about the story is how life like are the responses of the people involved.

His sisters are friends are grieving.

There is anger and hostility towards Jesus. If only he turned up a few days ago then maybe Lazarus might have been saved.

The sisters have faith but they are unsure about what is happening around them and all they can do is trust.

What John shows is God’s power breaking into the reality of that experience and the impact that has on those who are present.

Love and healing is found in a place where initially all hope seemed to have been lost.

The lighting of candles is a simple act of remembrance. No one is forgotten and where there is love, there is usually a way through.

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