MY WORDS TO THE GRIEVING AT A RECENT TEENAGER’S FUNERAL

Family and friends, members of the church and school communities, God is with us: His love unites us; His Spirit comforts us and never more so in times of bewilderment, pain and grief. I’ve presided at many funerals but never one like this. I’m confused and shocked, as indeed we all are, by the untimely death of xxxxx, just 13 years old, who chose to take her own life for reasons we cannot comprehend.

As I agonize over her loss, I find deep comfort and faith in the fact that although a person can destroy the body, they can’t destroy their spirit and the supreme truth is that in times like this we have a Saviour who holds out the greatest hope. We are incredibly precious to God, children especially. You know…we are all children of God, and in the faith that God has given to us, we turn to Him now asking for His comfort and His grace to be upon us – and to dwell in a special way upon the family and upon those who were privileged to love xxxxx during her brief stay with us upon this earth.

xxxxx and xxxxx, you can believe your precious daughter has found peace from all depression and hopelessness. To everyone: family, friends, church friends, school friends, we will be given the strength to cope with tomorrow. And it starts right here, right now, it’s a day for bright colours, as we are encouraged and uplifted during this thanksgiving service.

Let’s not prevaricate: today there’s a rising trend of young people choosing to end their own lives. Reasons abound for this, but 20 years ago depression in children was almost unknown. Now the fastest rate of increase in depression is among young people. 6 million prescriptions for antidepressants are written for under 16s each year.

xxxxx, as we know was “in a dark place”. What changed her from the fun-loving Girl Guide who loved to collect all her badges and wear them with pride – to feel so alone and helpless? She was unable to sleep properly at night, she was self-harming, she felt she was ugly, horrible and worthless. She was sad and hopeless about the future. In this world there’s lots of darkness, oppression and spiritual sickness. It’s no coincidence that we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil.” We can blame the abhorrent websites she discovered – which no 13 year old should have access to – but she was very clever at concealing things. We can criticise the counselling, therapy and care she received. We can put it down to intimidation at school. Or maybe even a chemical imbalance in the brain which led xxxxx to her psychosis and the belief that life is not worth living.

No matter what, her death is an enormous shock. There are so many “If onlys” and “What ifs” to deal with. In the light of this I cannot emphasize enough that this is not anyone’s fault. We mustn’t feel guilty over something we said or did, or did not say or do. For whatever reason, xxxxx pain was too great, too heavy for her to bear. I know that we would have done everything in our power if we had known.

If any of you know the beaches of the South Devon coast there’s hundreds of coves. There’s one called Inner Hope – which is a sheltered cove, and the rocks around it are known collectively as The Old Priests. Although pastoral ministry’s given me more grey hairs lately, I’m not an old priest, but like the rocks surrounding the cove, as a church leader, it falls on my shoulders to stand here today and to give love and hope to the grieving. The Church exists to offer safe haven against the sudden and traumatic storms of life. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe this.

We are here to ask God to help us: “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” – and to most especially help xxxxx and xxxxx through this heartbreak which I believe is also painful to God. As Jesus Himself said: “It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish.” There is a special place in God’s heart and amongst the angels for children of this world.

xxxxx and xxxxx, speaking as a parent who has also lost children, albeit in different circumstances, it seems the pain and the aching emptiness you feel inside will tear you apart. So many feelings of regret, and of wishing to turn the clock back, and of being unable to do something to prevent what happened are questions which compound your suffering. But you must, however, acknowledge that suicide is unexplainable. Therefore, today is not about trying to answer the questions. Even if there were answers they may satisfy our minds but nothing would calm the heartache inside. We weep, just as Jesus Himself wept at the death of a close friend, for we are here to mourn and to commend xxxxx into God’s care.

Up until xxxxx became so distant and angry, she was very loving. xxxxx was very organised. Very artistic. She loved Harry Potter and all sorts of pets and animals. xxxxx embraced life in her own little way. Her favourite Disney film was “The Lion King” and she recently had completed a school project on it. She loved the songs, some were playing as you came in, and a very special one to xxxxx will be played at the end of the service –  The Circle of Life – explained to a young lion cub that what happens in life is all connected to the past, present and future. That in the midst of our sadness with dreams, hopes and plans lying in ruins we as human beings can have faith and inner hope for healing.

Our life changes in an instant when someone we love dies – especially when it’s someone so young who had so much to live for. It’s the way the world is for us. Death is part of the circle of life. But it’s not the way God planned and designed it. He breathed life into original creation which was perfect – with no death – until sin, suffering and evil became part of the circle. We know that’s how it works, but we mustn’t believe it’s God’s will. He doesn’t want the death of children or the pain of their parents, or the dysfunction of the family. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That’s the price we pay for the freedom we have been given. But as we are all too aware we inhabit a dark and dangerous world.

No matter what we say here today, we cannot bring xxxxx back. But nothing good in our lives is ever lost – as in Christ all is redeemed, blessed and transformed. She will never be forgotten, because she is part of our circle and loves survives even beyond death. And because she wanted to donate her organs, her wish has been fulfilled and a number of strangers will be given new and better life within the circle of life.

xxxxx loved gardening. Even in the most beautiful of gardens, there can be an occasional flower that buds, but never opens. Something keeps it from blooming. It fades away – or disappears without having reached maturity. Once in a while, a baby is born, beautiful, precious and grows into a little girl with a cheeky face, develops into a young lady, goes to big school, but like the flower never fully opens, never blooms and fails to discover how precious and perfect she was. Now xxxxx has been gathered back into God’s heavenly garden where everything is explained and all her sorrows turned to happiness. Everything is different, except the love.

xxxxx, & xxxxx the Good Lord understands your pain. He had a son who died also to free us from all the burdens of this world. Jesus has done all that and much more for xxxxx – who has been given an eternal rest for her soul. She was a Wolverhampton girl and “out of darkness cometh light” and she doesn’t need a torch in her coffin to light the way. She’s already in God’s inaccessible heavenly light! I stress that beyond the pain there is healing and beyond the anxiety there is peace. We must treasure those special moments we had with xxxxx and smile and laugh as we recall all we shared with her.

Lastly, when life feels fragile and insecure let Jesus Christ heal you. In our tears and in our mourning He is with us. Let Him restore your faith in the circle of life for in God all things are made new. God’s peace is xxxxx. His peace will be ours.

May the Lord bless us, may we bless God. May He keep us from all evil and lead us to life everlasting.

Evangelists & Ministers

The Good Lord has given His Church evangelists to persuade lost sinners to respond to the Gospel (Tell a mark of mission). He has called ministers to help them get ready for the great Messianic banquet (i.e. to make sure they are “properly dressed”) – Teach another mark of mission. Naturally there is a fine line of demarcation between the two. 

Animals in Heaven?

Death came into the world through one man (Adam) and Life came into the world through one man (Jesus). The price of sin is death which was never intended for human beings – the pinnacle of God’s Creation. Of course, after creating everything the Good Lord declared everything “very good” – until Adam’s sin there was perfect harmony – there was no death. Adam was immortal. But was this true for the animals of Eden? They were all vegetarian, there was no disease, but did God perhaps pre-program animals genetic code so that an elephant can live for say 50 years, a dog for 20 years, a rabbit for 7 years (otherwise Eden would have been quickly overrun). 

This has consequences as to whether we will see our pets in heaven, but eternal life is not for them, they cannot reason and do not understand sin, death and resurrection. Jesus did not die for animals, but for human beings for whom death was not meant. Death is only the last great enemy for humans not animals.

In the new Creation there will be animals. Lions and lambs will lie together and there will be nothing wild to be a threat to us. Perhaps they will be unable to breed or grow old. Perhaps when their normal lifespan is up they will die? These thoughts need developing, but getting our emotions and relationships with animals needs to be understood. 

ANGELS

…in Hebrew they are called “the sons of God”. They are created spiritual beings with moral judgement and high intelligence but without physical bodies. “The Angel of the Lord” is pre-incarnate God Himself in the form of an angel. There is a hierarchy within the angelic order. There are myriads of them. They are never said to be made in the image of God. Humans are more like God than angels. “Angels are only servants. They are spirits sent from God to care for those who will receive salvation” (Hebrews ch.1,v.14). Here’s a Biblical precedent for guardian angels. And when our salvation is complete we will be exalted above them as humanity is the pinnacle of the Creator’s creation. 

STANDS OR FALLS

The Bible is concerned with theology. It’s a collection of 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books – all about God and His dealings with humanity and His plan of salvation. It does not stand or fall by the accuracy of its information because it is not a book of science, geography, history, archaeology. The Bible stands or falls with what it has to say about the purpose of life, the meaning of the world we inhabit and the reality of what lies beyond it. It answers those questions we repeatedly find ourselves asking: “Who am I?”, “What’s it all about?”, “Where am I going?” Throughout the ages, even in this postmodern age and beyond, the written Word remains within the providence of God. It is forever fixed in the heavens. 

Always Christ

Jesus was Christ before creation, when God planned salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus (2 Tim.1:9).

Jesus was Christ when He was born into the house of David (Lk.2:11).

Jesus was Christ when He was baptised by John and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and God declared “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt.3:16-17).

Jesus was Christ when He was transfigured in front of Peter, James and John (Mt.17:5).

Jesus was Christ when He was executed on the cross bearing the wrath of God. It was necessary for Him to suffer (Lk.24:25-26).

Jesus was Christ when death could no longer hold Him, when He was resurrected from the grave, destroying death itself as well as the power of the devil (Heb.2:15).

Jesus was Christ when He ascended to heaven and His seated at the right hand of God in glory, with all His enemies as His footstool (Ps.110:1).

You see Jesus didn’t become Christ at anyone time. He always was, IS and forever will be Christ – Messiah – Saviour. 

Spiritual Armour 

Paul, in prison, guarded by Roman soldiers and given divine inspiration to metaphorically replace physical soldiers uniforms with a spiritual one. Such are the verses of Ephesians ch.6:10-18. All too aware of the invisible battle believers face against the hostile and evil powers of this world:-

The Helmet of salvation – protects the Christian’s mind from doubting salvation and Satan’s attempts to thwart the Word of God.

The Breastplate of righteousness – Satan often attacks our hearts the seat of our emotions.

The Belt of truth – How often lies sound like truth. Satan wants believers to be convinced, convicted by falsehood further eroding Biblical orthodoxy.

The Shield of faith – Protects us from attacks from the adversary in the form of temptations and setbacks. The shield conveys the ultimate victory is ours.

The Sword of the spirit – Is the written Word of God. We take the offensive against evil powers by knowing and trusting the truth of Scripture.

The Shoes of peace – Satan tries to put us off bringing the message of the Kingdom of God.

Verse 18 “pray at all times” – reminds us that believers fight best when they are on their knees. Prayer brings down strongholds.

Lastly, around this uniform the Christian also needs the Apron of humility (1 Peter 5:5) in order to serve one another.

Veni Sancte Spiritus.