Grace to you and Peace from Christ who sustains us through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will never forget my Uncle Carl’s funeral. It was loud. So loud I thought it was going to blow the roof right off my home church! Allow me to explain. My uncle was an art professor at the University of Lethbridge. He was also a renowned sculptor. He liked to build and create often very large, very unique art pieces. As a child, I was always fascinated by his works of art. It was my first exposure to that kind of thing.
Tragically, my Uncle Carl’s life was cut short by cancer. I am grateful to East Zorra for allowing me to take time off to travel home to Alberta to attend his funeral. When the funeral procession began and we were seated as a family, I was surprised to see three massive Japanese Taiko drums set on large wooden stands.
I was told that my uncle made the largest middle drum for the University Percussion Ensemble. It was beautiful. Another masterpiece. The funeral service itself was sad and meaningful not unlike most funerals I’ve attended, that is, until the final benediction. At which point, 3 Taiko drummers, dressed in traditional attire, stood up and proceeded to jump back and forth, pounding loudly on the drums creating an all-consuming, overwhelming sound that resonated so deeply, it moved me to tears. It was such a fitting expression of our grief. It was a powerful act of lament.
This coming Sunday is known as Eternity Sunday, usually celebrated on the last Sunday before advent. Eternity Sunday creates some space for us to remember loved ones who have died. It’s a way to grieve together and remember God’s promises. Next Thursday, our church Care Team and pastors will offer our yearly Service of Remembering. This year on Zoom, we will gather with family members to remember cherished loved one’s who have died this year, in our church family and beyond. We will give powerful expression to our grief, not by pounding drums but by naming our loved ones, turning to God’s Word, sharing together and lighting candles. This time of remembering acts as a reminder of the faith that sustains us and leads us into the future with hope.
During this pandemic, we have experienced much grief. As we prepare to light candles for our loved ones, I am finding that I also want to light a candle for the front line workers and residents in Long Term Care Homes. I want to light a candle for homes experiencing outbreak like Cedar Kroft. I want to light a candle for over a million people who have died from the coronavirus. I want to light candles for those who died in the explosion in Beirut. I want to light a candle for George Floyd and people of colour who face racism everyday. I want to light a candle for those who lost their lives and homes in the Australian and Californian forest fires this year. I want to light candles for the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. I think I am going to need to buy a few extra candles this year.
There is something powerful about naming our grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. Whether it is through the dramatic lament of a pounding drum, telling your co-worker or friend that you are having a hard time or that you cried last night, or quietly lighting a candle. David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief says “When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through.”
What are you grieving right now?
How can you give that grief healthy expression?
What acts of faith are sustaining you in this dark valley of shadow and doubt?
Carol Penner, Professor of Practical Theology at Conrad Grebel University Collage, wrote this reflection on Eternity Sunday.
Eternity Sunday is a day to remember that death comes to every one of us. Death is a constant in human existence. For some, death comes suddenly, through an accident or sudden illness, for others, the movement towards death is years long. Young people sometimes die, and old people always die. Death is hard to handle, and even very strong Christians can get the shivers when we face the death of a loved one: as we let go of their hands we wonder, “God are you there? Do you hold their hands now? Can we trust you?”
The promises of Jesus are what sustain us.
Jesus died for us, he was crucified, died and was buried.
On the third he rose again, death could not hold him.
Resurrection was a victory, and is a promise for us of life eternal with God and with all those who have gone before. This is what sustains us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Copyright Carol Penner www.leadinginworship.com
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long. Psalm 23: 4-6
In the words of a friend, “Remember, even the smallest, single candle flame brightens the darkness. And for me, for many of us, lighting a candle is a prayer. Prayer opens our hearts and minds to God, which means that our hearts and our minds are more open to each other.” Naming our grief, however who choose to do it, is an act of faith that reminds us that we all in this grief together. May the peace of Christ be with us all.