On the 4th July in Hammersmith Hospital, my aunt Yvonne – my second mother was given a few hours to live after a hard 7 years of battling cancer. Her kidney’s had begun to fail and the dialysis was taking her strength away ontop of the fact that she couldn’t keep down her food – I was blessed to be holding her hand as she slipped away surrounded by her family and close friends…I know it’s cliche but that saying ‘you don’t know a good thing till it’s gone’ just couldn’t be more true than in this case. She was someone who always made sure I had a decent birthday party as a kid, who took me shopping to make sure I had a nice suit for work experience, who helped me become the independent and confident man that I am today.
I took her funeral service on the 17th July and I preached on the Crucifixion of Christ in John’s Gospel chapter 19. Whenever I visited her, the more she deteriorated the more I was reminded of the suffering of Jesus on the cross and was moved to think that Christ, our Lord and King, suffered in such a horrible way, just for me and you.
Here’s the sermon I preached at Greenford Methodist Church that day:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.
“On the seventh day God rested
in the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.
Now the Word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices
cradle him we do not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.” – N.T Wright
There. High up on the cross. Gasping for life. Deserted by his friends. Surrounded by his enemies. Drenched in death. The Son of God – Jesus Christ.
When you hear the story of the Crucifixion, I wonder what you see in your minds eye.
Perhaps you see the blood and gore.
Perhaps you see the rough wood or the rusty nails.
Perhaps you see the soldiers mocking.
Or perhaps, you see absolutely nothing at all.
In such an emotionally charged passage of scripture there is so much to hear, so much to see, so much to experience.
There’s the disciples, some of whom had stuck around, some who found it all just too much – tossed about by their own emotions, their fears, their failures, their hopes and dreams and doubts.
What IF he never breaks out of the tomb, what IF the prophecy is not found true…
And in the reading from John’s Gospel we heard, there is so much more under the chaos and the drama :-
Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus – out there somewhere trying to come to terms with his actions.
Thomas, whose doubts probably had already begun – he’s the disciple who simply didn’t believe Mary Magdalene or his brothers when they said they had seen the risen Lord. And if we’re honest – we often see a dim reflection of ourselves in doubting Thomas.
Peter, the one who denied that he was one of the disciples when the woman guarding the gate recognized him.
Then at the foot of the cross, Mary – Jesus’s mother, faithful from beginning to end and Jesus’ beloved disciple John.
Whilst in the backdrop, the soldiers cast lots for Christ’s clothes and divide them up amongst themselves.
In the midst of pain, and in the midst of darkness and in the midst of despair there will always be layers to the story.
Today, we come with our own pain. our own understandings. our own emotions. our own story.
But if the Story of the Crucifixion shows us anything at all – it is that God shares our pain and God is always part of our story.
We have a God who hears, who sees, who feels.
A God who in Jesus Christ was born in a stable,
A God who in Jesus Christ took up a job as a Carpenter,
A God who in Jesus Christ asked the woman at the well for a drink of water and washed the feet of his friends.
A God who in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit reaches out to all of us today with love and grace, freedom and forgiveness.
Friends, this is a God who Yvonne knew and loved, who she praised and glorified, a God who she said made her laugh as she spoke to him on her way to work, the same God who gave her her love of Angie Stone and Beres Hammond, the same God who gave her the huge heart of love and forgiveness and friendship which we all came to know and love.
God gave us a great, precious and immeasurable gift – a person through whom we came to know more of God’s love and grace. One who would teach and guide and direct, one who had fresh thought and ideas, one whose strength and energy was always at the total and complete disposal of her family and her friends. We were blessed – and our lives are a richer tapestry for the colours she wove into them.
Brothers and Sisters, if you can learn anything from the life and story of our sister and friend – learn to live well and to die well. To live in God so that you may die in God. To live love so that you may die in love. To live in peace so that you may die in peace.
The strength that Yvonne had in her. The strength that we all acknowledge and even wish we had within ourselves – all that strength came from her experiences but most importantly from God.
And those of us who were with her in Hammersmith Hospital the day she was promoted to Glory – were thrown into the depths of our being, thrown into the depths of God, thrown into the depths of our own mortality.
Those were emotions which no words but the words of God in total silence can express.
Could we die so well, so loved, so upheld.
Christ received the wine, and as he did so he uttered his last words “It is finished” which actually means “it is paid in full”. I have done it. I have completed the task.
And as he breathed his last, many lost sight of the resurrection hope. They could not see beyond that day. They were so lost and fearful that some of them even went into hiding and locked themselves away.
And if we’re honest, those of us who were blessed to be there at Hammersmith Hospital on that difficult but special day – could not see past the 4th July either. On Independence day, one on whom so many of us were dependent for friendship for love for conversation for company for laughter – for her, her sunshine had come. A new day had dawned, a life lived with God, continued with God into the glory, splendor, beauty and peace of eternity.
So come to God today,
with all your pain, your fears,
and lay them down one by one at the foot of the cross. For it is only at the cross that we can find our full strength. Only at the cross that we truly understand life. Only at the cross that death truly makes sense.
And once you’ve gone to the cross, leave all your mess there and let Christ look into the depths of your soul and as you are set free – march with full confidence into your new life, towards the God who loved us into being, even before we could know anything of it, just as we are.
For he lives who once was dead, and because he rose again so can each and every one of us.
“Made like him, like him we rise, ours the cross, the grave, the skies!”
To God’s praise and Glory.