I held the annual memorial service last week to remember our loved ones who have died. Traditionally this is done on 2nd November, All Souls Day, but I feel just before Christmas probably works well for many people. I think this is especially true for those who are facing their first Christmas without someone special. There will be an empty place at the table.
In my preparation I was drawn to Job and his predicament. I thought about his comforters – the men who tried to comfort him but actually were not able to do so.
Here’s the bible readings plus the address. I hope you find it helpful.
We meet together to remember with thanksgiving those we love who have died; to renew our trust and confidence in Christ, and to pray that we may be one in Him.
Listen to the words from the bible. Bring your pain and your sadness. Offer to God this time of worship, and receive the comfort and peace he longs to give you. Amen
In the presence of death, Christians have sure ground for hope and confidence, and even for joy, because our Lord Jesus Christ, who shared our human life and death, was raised again triumphant and lives for evermore. In Him his people find eternal life. So let us share together the promises of Scripture.
Hear the words of Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Hear the words of Job: I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. After I awake, though this body has been destroyed then I will see God. I myself will see Him with my own eyes.
Hear the words of St Paul: For none of us lives to themselves alone and none of us dies to themselves alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Hear the words of the Lord: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27.
When thinking about what I might say this afternoon, I looked back to see that I spoke about last year. I spoke of God’s peace. So I thought I would talk about God’s comfort this year, as the prayers we will be using later are asking for God’s comfort.
I then thought about Job and his comforters. Job had suffered, not just a bit but greatly – many losses both financial and personal. He had every reason to be angry with God. His friends try to comfort him. In their world view God was the source of both good and bad things. And most people thought that God rewarded the good people with good things and punished the bad people with suffering. They conclude that Job MUST have done something wrong, and so when they have sat with him for a while, they suggest he examine himself for any sin.
Whenever I come across that viewpoint today and someone asks me if God is punishing them by letting someone die or them experiencing some difficulty, I do all I can to convince the person that, as a Christian, that is not my view of God. When Jesus gave the sermon on the mount he said: “your Father in heaven; makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
Our faith as Christians often grows stronger in times of trial and trouble. Trials have a way of digging up the soil of our hearts and turning up weeds. That is good for us, for it is not in the sunshine but in the storm that we discover the depth of our need. Someone has said, Great soldiers are not made in the barracks nor on the parade ground, but on the battlefield where the going is tough.
Job didn’t lose his faith in God. He complained, he poured out his heart and in the end he had to conclude that he wasn’t wiser than God. He maintained his belief that God, his redeemer lives, and that in the end when his body has been destroyed then he will see God with his own eyes.
Sometimes we have to acknowledge that bad stuff happens to us all and why some people seem to have more than their fair share of grief and problems, nobody knows. It is how we respond that’s important and difficulties in life give opportunities to get to know God better as we reach out to him for help, comfort and strength, and yes, to complain and say it’s not fair!
The bible is a great source of wisdom about this.
Psalm 46 starts with: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” and towards the end God says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).
Times of trouble often bring times of silence. Days filled with suffering and sorrow can give us the opportunity to be silent. These can be precious moments of quiet reflection when God speaks to us. So, our time of trouble can be for each of us a time of getting to know God better.
I have found that if I sit quietly, perhaps lighting a candle, and take a few breaths to become still and then take a verse or two from the bible to read and mull over, it helps me to feel more peaceful.
Isaiah 43:1-4 – inserting your own name instead of Jacob and Israel.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
Matthew 11 28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Psalm 139 – assurance of God who made us is with us wherever we are.
Ps 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”
Many of the psalms were written by King David, he knew much suffering. He sat silently before God in his affliction. He wrote The Lord’s my Shepherd with those lines about trusting in God even though he walks through the valley of the shadow of death. He knew God’s comfort and strength.
And when we are comforted, we are able to share God’s comfort with others. Hopefully faring better than Job’s comforters. St Paul, who also knew a lot of suffering wrote:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
God’s comfort is unique and everlasting (2 Thessalonians 2:16). It is available at all times. No Christian is left to face sickness and sorrow alone. God says through the prophet Isaiah: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;”
God sent his comfort to the world in his Son Jesus, who in turn sent the Holy Spirit to live within our hearts and helps us to show God’s comfort to others. The compassion that we give and receive is God’s comfort. He strengthens us when we help each other.
I want to end with a piece of writing that Peter Dixon had emailed to himself. It clearly had spoken to him, and he may have saved it to use in ministry. I used it in his funeral this week. I hope you find the words helpful.
‘Compassion is not tested in the garden of our choice but in the deserts where we are led’. So says Father John Francis Friendship CCHJM. In the end, when we are before God at the last, we will be called to account over how much or little we loved.
Our own natural love is limited and rarely extends beyond our immediate family. But God’s love is infinite and we are invited to share in that love and become vessels to hold it and to pour it out among humanity.
We share in it when we give ourselves wholeheartedly to God. When we let go of all our false securities and plunge into the wild ocean of God. There we must learn to trust Him to survive.
And where is this wild ocean? Where is the scorching dry desert? It is in the ordinary every day events of life which come to us now at the rate of 60 minutes to the hour, 24 hours to the day.
So let us all, each day, remember to spend a few moments resting in God’s presence, open to receive his comfort and peace for ourselves, and for those who will cross our path.
I have to acknowledge that this sermon was inspired/gleaned (pinched) from this longer reflection that I came across on-line: https://bible.org/seriespage/8-god-all-comfort