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Sermon #60: Death & Bereavement - Comfort for the Grieving

Losing a loved one can be quite a shock.

The sorrow normally is so powerful that it casts a dense and dark shadow over the bereaved. Time appears to freeze. Nothing seems to matter any more. It is a time of mourning - an episode that none of us can get accustomed to no matter how many times one might have experienced death in the family.
Help is desperately and urgently required, if the affected are to quickly find strength to cope with their grief and loss. This article attempts to offer such comfort, to some extent.

You may understand, from past experiences, the message that I am trying to convey here. 

The distress and emptiness caused by the death of a family member or any other loved one are normally very difficult to imagine and absorb. It is hard to cope with the death of a mother, father, sister, brother, child or friend, for example. Some mourners even consider this to be the end of the world, while some attempt suicide and have to be restrained and counseled. 

Those who have not passed through a similar experience may not quite appreciate the agony, and sometimes sheer confusion, that the bereaved may be experiencing deep inside their souls. Even some of those who come to offer condolences may not quite appreciate what the bereaved will be going through. It is the bereaved and those who have passed through bereavement who know what grieving really means.

However, even for the grieved, the dust should settle, eventually. Thoughts and emotions should begin to stabilize at some point. One should begin to look at the incident from a reality standpoint; this is where one's beliefs come in handy.

I thank God for His Word that comforts and inspires us always.
Given below is a true story, a personal testimony, to the end that you may be emboldened if you are passing through or have recently passed through a funeral in the family or in the families of people dear to you.

On the day my son passed on in June 2013, taken by drowning, I experienced all the above, and probably more. It was unexpected, because it was so sudden. He was due to start attending college in just three weeks - you can imagine.

Life stood still. I could not sit down; I kept pacing the floor, I cannot recall for how long.
Thoughts raced through my mind. I began to wonder if I could have done something to prevent the accident - but he was miles away when it happened, alone at the river where he had gone to take a bath.

He had insisted on going to visit relatives in the countryside. I had refused him permission on at least three occasions. I seemed to have a bad feeling about the trip which I could not pin down. When he finally traveled, I had just let him go, thinking it would probably have been too hard on him for me to continue barring him.

When I thought about the issue after the accident, I began to feel as though I ought to have barred him from traveling and should have stuck to my guns. After a loss, it's normal for one to query, "Is there anything that I could have done to prevent death?" or "Should I have put more effort than I did?" or "Did I act in time in trying to prevent it?"

We all know that people die; but it seems that each time death visits the family it comes as something totally  unexpected. I don't think we could ever be really prepared for such an eventuality, emotionally.

When the dust settled somewhat, I asked myself a pertinent question, "What do I believe regarding death?" 

I will give you the lessons and the words that encouraged me; words that could comfort you today if you are in a similar situation. These words carry meaning only for the saved, those who believe in the Lord our hope. To the rest, the words do not mean a thing. That's why it's important to lead our loved ones to Christ as a matter of urgency; you never know when the last goodbye will be.

Listen to this: " is destined to die..." - Hebrews 9:27 (NIV). People - all of them - are destined to die. That's what it is. It may not be today, tomorrow, or next year, but you and me will definitely die at some point in time. You probably know of somebody or some people who have just passed on.

You are destined to die; so am I. So also are your loved ones - parents, spouse, friends, children, brothers, sisters, workmates, high school colleagues, etc. They will not live on the this earth forever; for it was never meant to be!

We indeed are on a journey. How and with whom we walk on this journey is of critical importance. Our lives should exhibit this consciousness always.

Consider this: "If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." - Romans 14:8 (NIV). 

We should live to the Lord; we also should die to the Lord. We should belong to, and remain in, the Lord. He is the source of the Christian's hope in this life. It is encouraging to note that we remain the Lord's, whether in life or death!

If we live to the Lord, we will be able to speak like Paul. At one point Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." - Philippians 1:21 (NIV). What an elevated revelation! To die is gain. Indeed, for the saved that's what it is. Going to the next level!

So if your loved one belonged to the Lord, these words should console you, just as they did me, though painful the death of a loved one is.

The bible refers to death as 'sleep'. So those who died in Christ are 'asleep in Christ'. The word 'sleep' defines the Lord's perception of death, a perception that we need to adopt. 

Consider too the following bible verses about death:
  • "He went in and said to them, 'Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.'" - Mark 5:39 (NIV).

  • "After he had said this, he went on to tell them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.'" - John 11:11 (NIV).
  • "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed." - Acts 13:36 (NIV). Notice, David did not decay; but his body did.
  • "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV). You are not ignorant. You are not hopeless. And it is all because of the Lord with and in you.
  • "He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him."1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NIV).
  • We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." - 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV).
Now listen to this:
  • "Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord." - 2 Corinthians 5:6 (NIV).
  • "However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit." - 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (NIV).
  • "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'"Revelation 14:13 (NIV).
These biblical messages consoled me. This is what I have always believed in - our great hope

I know that this world is but a pale shadow of the real world, and that, although I miss my son, he is still the Lord's just as he was when he walked the earth. In my view, nothing could be better.

I have also learnt that even as Christians, we sometimes get too troubled at the loss of a loved one despite the words of hope and comfort that are before us. It takes time to work through grief, that I understand; but we should not go on like those who are ignorant and are without hope, as the bible teaches.

This world is not our eternal home. Our lives on earth will surely come to an end, like it or not. Live ten years, live a hundred years, live a thousand years, to the Lord you will still be less than a day old. 

In my view, the death of a loved one should completely change our life-conduct and priorities. People tend to destroy good relations because of petty differences. Yet I have heard some say, "I should have loved them more." or "I should have spent more time with them." or "I should have done this and that for them."

Whatever it is you should be doing for the living do it now, for at some point in time your loved ones will be no more.

Where do you prefer to live now and beyond - in the presence of the Lord or in the presence of some other lords?

I hope that this has helped you.

[In memory of Isaiah Tapiwanashe Muverengwi (1994-2013). We always remember.]