Earlier this year I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and although it was really still winter and the rainy season, I could see how dry and barren the country would soon become. Months of searing heat scorch the earth so that nothing grows and animals wander in search of water. In the Bible, the dry thirstiness of the land is often used as a picture for the dry thirstiness we sometimes feel within our own souls. Life’s journey can take us through some very difficult places, hard times when we can end up feeling as barren and desolate as the wilderness.
In that Biblical image, the water which revives the land, and causes new green growth, is a picture for the love of God. He satisfies the soul, brings life and hope. Psalm 84 that we read describes a group of pilgrims, journeying up to the temple in Jerusalem. As they travel, they pass through the arid valley of Baca, a place where there were many tombs. Yet their sadness is turned to hope by the love of God. It is as if the valley has become a place of springs and pools, because they will soon meet God in his temple.
Today, our loving heavenly Father often chooses to help us through Christ’s church. Each one of us has our own needs, sometimes deeply hidden, and yet God knows them all and holds us in his love. He brings help to us in many different ways. As we give thanks for those who have died, and as we think about our own loss, I’d like to explore with you some ways that you might be able to receive God’s grace here.
The church building can be a place to be aware of God’s presence and love, as we pray or sit in the stillness. In this group, all of our churches are open during the daytime – what’s the point of a church that isn’t open? And everyone is welcome to come in and stay for as little or as long as you would like. In several of our churches you can write a prayer on a notelet and put it on a prayer board – and often visitors or clergy will pray for those mentioned.
When I have been bereaved, I know that there are times when I want to be alone with my thoughts. At other times I can’t bear being by myself, and I want company. Sometimes it is easy to pray on my own. Other times I want to be with others and know that they are praying even when I cannot.
So being part of a religious service can be a great help. God’s presence can be much more tangible, and even if it feels too much to join in, one can be carried along by the flow of worship. Every Sunday we remember in the prayers those who are bereaved and those who have died recently. Any Sunday we can include the name of a loved one – perhaps at an anniversary or maybe just because it is the right time. All you need to do is let the clergy know before the service.
I’d encourage you to do this, because the supportive fellowship of the church can be a real help. A church is not a gathering of the perfect. Instead it is a community of fellow travellers, where each one of us is loved and accepted as we are. All our churches aim to be places of friendly, unintrusive supportiveness. Ready to care, and sensitive to give space when needed.
Of course, there will be points in our lives when we need time to talk things through. One to one conversation with someone who’s really listening, the space to think. If you feel that would be helpful, please do get in touch with our clergy or lay ministers, as it would be a privilege for us to be able to help.
Jesus Christ knew what it was like to be bereaved. He had lost members of his earthly family, he wept at the grave of Lazarus his friend. Today he longs for us to know his help and healing – and one of the ways he offers that to us is through his church.