A family have asked for the following poem, by Henry Scott Holland, to be read at a short ceremony for the internment of ashes. The lady in questions died some months ago (so the grief should not be fresh). Here’s the poem followed by what I was going to say about it. I’d welcome advice.
‘Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other we are still. Call me by my old familiar name. Speak to me in the way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well.’
[snip…. short description of the lady’s life]
We also heard a poem by Henry Scott Holland which N wrote out in her notebook: ”Death is nothing at all, I have only slipped away into the next room, nothing has happened”
These words aim at giving us hope and comfort. But the problem is that they are not true. And deep down we know they are not true. When loved ones die, we are acutely aware that they are gone. The very fact we are gathered here is testimony to that fact. Our loved ones are not with us any more, nor merely “in the next room.” We grieve and mourn because we miss them. Death has torn our loved ones away from us, and it hurts.
The message of Jesus Christ offers us a certain hope that death is not the final separation from God and from others. We can have confidence that this hope is certain because of Jesus’ Christ’s death and resurrection.
Let me read a verse from the new Testament – the passage we’ve just heard:
1 Cor 20-23 “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
Jesus was killed but God raised him to life again. Not so that he could be reunited with the friends he left behind, but so that all of us can have a certain hope of a life to come with God. As the passage says, Jesus’ resurrection was the first-fruits, the beginnings of what is to come.
So, through Jesus the tyranny and separation of death is beaten and there is the promise of eternal life with him. We know that because he rose from the dead.
How do we attain this life? Let me read a verse again
In Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
We attain this life by belonging to Jesus. By following him and devoting our hearts and minds to him.
Make no mistake, Death is significant. Something serious has happened. But through Jesus’ resurrection death is overcome. And the promise of life with God is open to all who turn to Jesus.
Let us now commit N’s remains to the mercy of God and the hope of resurrection through Christ.