In the early 90’s the film Four Weddings and a Funeral was a great success. It was the movie that launched Hugh Grant’s career as he tries to find love.
It was successful, it seems to me, because it wasn’t just a conventional chick flick. It was a film which alongside the joy of life, the weddings; recognised that every story no matter how we might wish otherwise doesn’t always have an apparently happy ending.
If you remember at one of the four weddings, which is taking place in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, one of the main characters collapses and dies. It was a moment when to use some words often used at funerals ‘in the midst of life we are in death’ ring true.
I guess we all know something about that of how in the midst of life, when everything else seems to carry on as if nothing has happened, something profound has happened. Life has been wrenched from someone we love and nothing will be the same again.
At the funeral in the film, some words of the poet W.H. Auden are read. As ever, poetry as it wrestles with human experience, finds the words that express the unexpressible.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Auden captures that sense that everything has changed, nothing is the same the man he loved is dead. It seems such a cold and final thing to say but that is what he is, dead.
The followers of Jesus saw him die. He was dead too.
We can imagine the scene. They took him down from the cross. Already his body growing cold.
They take him to a tomb and they lay him there.
A large stone is put over the entrance, a stone no one could move could move and at that moment Auden’s words were theirs.
He is dead.
It is one of the hardest things to live a faith that has a painful and very real death at its centre.
Yet there is more and this is where I would want to challenge Auden’s wonderfully real words that tell it how it is, for the poem ends ‘nothing now can ever come to any good.’ And though that is how grief can sometimes feel, faith in Christ, risen from the dead gives us hope.
As Christ’s followers today, we strive to hold the sense of separation and loss alongside the hope we have of new life.
Jesus stood before his followers, dead and then alive. It was unbelievable, it still is, we do not see our loved ones raised from the dead, much as we might wish it.
But gradually for those who followed Jesus a new way of understanding, life, death and the life to come emerged. They realised that all of life was held in God’s love, that even, as St. Paul wrote, death cannot separate us from that love.
And there was more; this rising, wasn’t just about them and that moment in history, it was an event that would shape all of time. For this risen Christ was with them in a new way, he was alive in their hearts and in their lives. He was risen indeed.
But that rising was only possible because of the dying.
You are here though this afternoon to remember someone you love who has died. To honour their memory, to light a candle, to express in some way that those whom we love but see no longer are not forgotten, that they still matter.
We do need rituals to help us cope with our grieving, remember how the women went to the tomb the day after Jesus died. But death can cast a long shadow that if we are not careful can frustrate and diminish our living.
We that are left, need to walk a tightrope between acknowledging the shocking reality of death and the need to grieve and living our lives as fully as we can.
That can be hard, death has a hold on us and perhaps becomes part of us, and so the beginning of the journey to new life is to really accept death.
I know that seems a foolish thing to say, of course you know they have died, but sometimes our rituals, the things we do don’t express that. It seems to me that our graveyards, our hallowed places of rest though an important place of pilgrimage in some way reflect the lack of confidence in the new life we believe won for us by Christ.
The resurrection is about life not death and through faith, the lives we are called into by him are lives shaped by life and hope. Christ dares us to believe that death is not the end of the story.
That with him life abounds that there is more than we can possibly imagine, a more framed by love– that my friends is our hope, a hope that shapes our living and informs us as followers of Christ in this place.
Four weddings and a funeral speaks to our experience of life. Joy and sadness are sometimes cruelly mingled together but faith in Christ always invites us to see more, to live and love more and to dare to hope that death does not have the final word.