Another postcard from the land of grief
To live in this foreign land and yet still try to sing the song of faith is not a new thing. People of faith were doing it as far back as the 6th Century BC when exiles on the bank of the River Tigris tried to remember their spiritual home even though it cost them dear. In Psalm 137, harps hung on a tree and captors smirking at them, they tried to summon up a faith all but quashed by their circumstances.
Today, before a congregation of Christians drawn from every tradition in Newbury, I sought to do the same thing:
As most of you will know, my wife, Fiona, died in November last year. For the past seven years she had been battling cancer – with multiple surgeries and repeated rounds of chemotherapy. On at least two occasions during that time, bad news was delivered at Easter. On both occasions, it was on a Maundy Thursday.
Last year was no exception. On Maundy Thursday her oncologist finally told us that there was no more which could be done. All curative options had been exhausted. Fiona was handed over to the care of the local Sue Ryder palliative care team – who would see her through to the end.
The next day was Good Friday – and we were both here, along with all of you. After the service, we joined in the walk through town to the Methodist Church. When we got there, Fiona had to sit on the wall for the short service in the open air, as she was too weak to stand. This was to be an Easter like no other…and our last together.
Two days later, I left the house shortly before 7 for the Easter sunrise service. Fiona was really needing her sleep at that time, so I closed the front door very quietly behind me . That was when it struck me with a kind of searing clarity: next year, she will be up before I am at Easter.
There it is – in all its simplicity and depth. What we sing about, what we proclaim in our churches…all comes down to this. Do we believe that those who die in Christ are raised to life? I do, and it makes it possible to live in a miasma of constant sadness but with an unshakeable hope. I shall celebrate this Easter without her, but not without hope…and on Sunday morning, she will be up before I am.