—Rev Margaret Bird, 29 Oct 2017, Service of Remembrance
Have you noticed that when we sit down together to share a meal or a cup of tea with a friend or an acquaintance, the conversation and the whole atmosphere appears more relaxed and welcoming.
There is something about a communal gathering that meets and eats together that helps us to share together what is on our mind too; it’s easier when we are comfortable and at our ease to find the right words or can choose the best moment to divulge what we are feeling inside.
There are many times when we lose a loved one that we would prefer to be alone with our thoughts and memories; but those moments we spend with friends and other members of our family demonstrate how they share our pain and our sadness too. Our loss is their loss too; their silence and composure are how they show their love for us and demonstrate their desire to ease our pain. But they understand what we are experiencing because they are sensing it too; in those moments, we are being loved and supported by those who know what is on our minds and see the empty space in our hearts.
Offering hospitality breaks down barriers. There’s something about the offer of food and drink that says to us: you are welcome. We are so pleased you’ve come. Do stay a while with us. It’s not just being polite.
Being invited for a meal speaks of the need we all have for friendship and companionship. God made human beings to live in community with one another and to want to be with each other.
So, when we hear God speaking to us and inviting us to his table, it reminds us that God wants us to be with him. God welcomes us to share our innermost thought and feelings. We know that we are welcome. God wants us to be there.
My table thou has furnished or as the original psalm says ‘You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;’ Familiar words from the 23rd psalm written 2500 years ago yet we can still empathise with the writer and all that he was experiencing as he said these words. Perhaps that is why the Lord is my Shepherd is the most familiar and the most loved of the psalms, the poetic songs in the Bible; we often sing it as a hymn too. As we listen to the words of this hymn, we can imagine the author of the psalm walking alone with his thoughts and all that is troubling him. He walks in familiar places that bring back memories, yet they evoke times of calm and serenity—pictures of quiet retreats and happier moments.
Yet he is alone but not alone; every step brings him closer to the knowledge that he is loved and cared for. All that he is feeling, all those emotions that ebb and flow when we search for what we have lost, disturb his very being and unsettle him. In his darkest moments he experiences the love of God in his life, that glimmer of light at the end of the interminable gloom, a word of comfort that says you are never alone and the realisation that life will go on even though it will be different than before.
Today, we find these moments in the touch of friends, in the smile of complete strangers and the love of our families. A glimmer of hope in what sometimes can seem a very dark and sorrowful place. God brings us comfort in our grief in so many ways, often quite unexpectedly.
When our children were small they took great delight is setting the table for Sunday lunch (especially when we had visitors) that meant more places to be set. Each knife and fork were placed carefully on the table; each guest was invited to sit in their special place. As the years have rolled by, children have left home. People that we all loved are no longer with us.
The table now seems rather empty. There are spaces where those we loved once sat. Over the table, we shared food, exchanged conversation and spent time with one another.
Time that was precious where we listened, comforted and encouraged, caught up with news and just relaxed with those we loved, enjoying each other’s company.
Now those moments sitting around the table evoke fond memories and make us thankful for time spent together and opportunities to be with one another.
What is it about the sharing of food and conversation that unites us into one family and make the table a welcoming place?
Here we are all equal; here we find trusted friends, where we can relax and just be ourselves; a place where we know we are welcome.
We are welcome because without us the table is incomplete. Our presence is anticipated. We are expected.
So, when there is an empty space at our table it leaves a great sadness in our lives; the empty space at our table echoes the hollow feeling inside us. We know that nothing can bring our loved ones back to us; we hold on to our memories and recall the gap they have left behind.
Each of us here this afternoon has come because someone dear to us has died.
We were part of their lives and are thankful for knowing them and for the love that they gave to us.
Their place at our table is now empty but they are not forgotten because we keep each one of them in our hearts and our prayers and in our memories
We know them and love them just as God knows and loves each of them too.
In a little while we will be invited, if we wish, to come and light a candle as the names of those are no longer with us are read out. We light a candle to remember them. We light a candle as a sign of life: a light shining in our darkness, a reminder that our loved one is now at peace and is free from the pain and cares of this world. We light a candle as a prayer to God as we offer our memories, any pain and emptiness that we might have brought with us today. Jesus said that he was the light of the World; he asks us to trust and to hope, to believe that this life is not the end. To believe that he is our light shining in our darkness to show us the way. Just as Jesus overcame death itself so we too, when we die, are invited to a new life that is everlasting.
We light a candle with hope and thanksgiving: hope for the promise that Jesus gives us for a new life and thanksgiving for the life of the person we have known and loved.
So, as we remember them and light a candle today, we thank God for the time we spent with them, for love that they shared with us, for memories of past times and look with hope to the new life that is to come.