Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Bereavement blights our lives. It takes many forms – losing a job, losing a home or even losing a pet can invade a person with a sense of loss and the diminishment that accompanies it. It is striking that in the Beatitudes Jesus includes the bereaved among the blessed; ‘blessed are they who mourn – they shall be comforted.’ Although emotionally bereavement can be a time of desolation and depression, it can nevertheless be a time of blessing. It is a time of blessing for all those ‘who throw all their needs onto God’ [1 Pet. 5.7]. It brings us to a place in our relationship with God of spiritual poverty, of ‘knowing our need of God.’ It is a time of stripping away of life until only the essentials are left.
It can be a time of great clarity in assessing priorities in life. It can be a time of deepening fellowship with other Christians. Brought to our knees before God, we find that we are not alone. I am not saying that this is a happy or easy time; for some it is hard, difficult, and seems painful beyond endurance. But, for the Christian, even these experiences can be transformed by the grace of God, who brings good out of troubles.
The priority is to be open and honest with God in prayer. The Psalms are full of the cry of desolation (see Psalms 42, 69, 130, 142). God is well able to deal with our anger and frustration – all of this has been met and reconciled in Christ, and in Christ we find a friend and brother in bereavement (see John 11, the death of Lazarus). Here the Christian finds himself dealing with death in a way that is difficult and foreign to those without faith in the crucified and risen Lord. It is the custom now not to embrace bereavement and share it, but to bypass it and hurry on in life. There is nothing negative and morbid in dwelling on the memory of the departed in bereavement.
Bereavement is a time of blessing because it confronts the bereaved with the truth of the Gospel: that there is eternal life for those who trust in Christ; that we are made to love and serve God forever. Bereavement is a time of blessing because it draws us into hope to which we are called, and within this hope is the peace beyond understanding.
This Gospel, this hope and this peace are at the heart of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we are, as the Prayer Book prays, ‘very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.’ Holy Communion is a sign of our belonging to the Communion of Saints.
Bereavement can be a time of blessing, for it can be a time of the most heartfelt thankfulness. In being thankful, our love, made keener by loss, carries us to the heart of God’s love, the love which is stronger than death.