Psalm 31 : 1-5, 15 – 16; Acts 7 : 55 – 60; 1 Peter 2 : 2 – 10; John 14 : 1 – 14
by Local Preacher Adam Biddlestone.
The opening verses of this gospel passage must be amongst the best known, because they are read and heard at so many funeral services.
They bring a sense of comfort and hope that death is not the end of life, rather a stage in it. It offers hope that loved ones are going to a better place, joining those who have gone before them and waiting for those still walking the earthly life.
I wonder what Jesus really meant when he said the words, ‘no one comes to Father except through me,’ is a place restricted and only available for those who have believed in him during their earthly life? ‘What of Robert’s salvation?’ was a question that troubled the late Rev Arnold Cooper, following the death of his grandson aged just 20. Robert was on a journey of exploration and discovery, not rejecting the faith of his parents and grandparents but exploring whether he was to make that same commitment to believe in and follow Christ his own. Arnold, at the age of 86, set about studying this question, for which he gained a Master’s Degree, and was led largely through the hymns of Charles Wesley (and in particular his eucharistic hymns) to conclude that Christ intercedes for all God’s people and his ministry of intercession as a risen Saviour becomes for all the way, so at the point of death all are re-united to their Creator and Saviour.
The Acts passage recalls Stephen’s words before he was stoned to death. He saw a vision of heaven, with the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He went on to pray to the Lord, ‘receive my Spirit.’ His final words were not for himself but for those who stoned him, that their sin may not be held against them, so that they may receive God’s loving forgiveness and enter the Kingdom of heaven. Here, he echoes Christ’s own words of forgiveness spoken from the cross.
For Christians and the wider church, ministry to the dying and the ministry of funerals is important. It is where we accompany people on their final journey and bereaved relatives and friends on the beginning of their journey without a loved one. We have to start and sometimes be held where people are in their thinking and belief. We recall the repetition of John Wesley’s own words from his death bed, ‘the best of all, is God is with us.’ Sometimes, we need to find the courage to admit we are still learning and discovering what that means.
Thankfully, death and dying are not the taboo subject that they once were. Exploring and speaking about death and related issues is healthy and positive, it is at the heart of the message of the gospel, the gospel of the one who through his death and resurrection became for all, ‘the way, the truth and the life.’
Lord, you are the way, the truth and the life, through your life you have shown us the way. Through your death and resurrection you are the way. Help us to lead others to you.