Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thoughts for a Memorial Service

Tomorrow - June 15th - I am leading a service at Carmountside Cemetery, the principal municipal cemetery in Stoke-on-Trent, which is the annual memorial service. The service is more than ecumenical, in fact what I have drafted for the service has been carefully examined and the Bereavement Services have been concerned that the service neither looks like a funeral nor is too 'religious'.
In fact it would be misleading to describe it as ecumenical, as I am the only minister leading the event, though a member of the cemetery staff, who has made most of the arrangements, will be reading out the list of names of all the dead whose relatives will be present. That good lady tells me that she is a spiritualist, which I would not describe as Christian, though of course she may.
I will give a few words of 'reflection'? What to say? On the one hand a 'sermon' may be inappropriate for such a gathering, yet on the other hand many there will get great solace from their faith. And, of course, as a Catholic priest I cannot say something which is contrary to the catholic faith.

So I have had a go. After reading 1 Corinthians 13, this is what I plan to say:


In our house, over my desk, hangs a little drawing, almost faded away, which hung on the cot our baby daughter, Claire, before she died, just four days old. That was 20 years ago, yet I still cherish it. And my wife keeps an old grey cap, hung on a nail on the wall, which her father used to wear. And he has been gone now 13 years.

Why is remembering so important to us? Why do so many of us like a place to visit and lay flowers, and keep cherished dates, and treasure pictures, or photographs or keepsakes of those who have gone long before?

We don’t remember - let us be honest - because the memories were always good and happy. Oh yes, so many were, but memories can also be painful, and call to mind times of sadness and difficulty.

We remember for this reason - and that is because we love. We love the little baby, a few hours old. We love the child, taken too young. We love the brother or sister who share so much or our lives. We love the friend, or the spouse or the parent who at times delighted us and at times infuriated us. Memories make us laugh and cry, but it is love which makes us cherish them all.
And this I really believe - that love is stronger than death. For some, who have religious faith, this is comfort and hope of life beyond life. For others, who struggle to understand or who perhaps cannot share the faith of others, love is no less powerful.

In loss and in remembering we often struggle for words. Only one thing is necessary, and that is love.

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