Sunday 16 May 2010

Sermon at the service of death and resurrection of a suicide

A sermon by Kim Fabricius (the names have been changed)

Emptiness inside, or if there is anything there, chaos. A sense not only of loss but of waste. Anger, perhaps. Second-guessing for sure, despite your utter helplessness to rescue Susan from the waves of withdrawal and depression, and probably a nagging feeling of guilt. Some recriminations directed at some one or some thing to blame, an understandable but futile rearguard response to frustration. And not to forget the social stigma of – let’s say the word: suicide (naming the demon will help pull its sting). But there it is: that is now the mess that is every stricken soul who knew and loved Susan.

So let me give you a few of faith’s convictions to hang on to at this time, a lifeline in your spiritual floundering. The love of God for Susan, and the care of God for those who mourn, are not diminished one jot by what has happened. And that’s because God is love and care all the way down, because there is nothing that we can ever do to make God love and care for us any less, or any more, than he eternally loves and cares for us. There is no divine judgement here, for Susan or for you, and do not for a moment be tempted to think that the seemingly inexorable disintegration of Susan’s self, her sense of homelessness and hopelessness, or your own sense of perplexity and powerlessness, have been for anything, as payback or testing. No! For though I cannot answer the inevitable, agonising question “Why?”, nor offer any explanation of events as they unfolded, I can tell you this: that God is not behind these events, nor above them, but in, with, and under them, sharing your pain and bearing your burden.

Remember, this is not a funeral. Christians don’t have funerals, we have services of death and resurrection. We meet, we worship, in the name of Christ, crucified and risen. We proclaim that Christ died for us, and that Christ lives for us, and that because Christ lives, no one is beyond redemption. We do not deny death, or the manner of its coming, but we insist that love is stronger than death. We affirm that Susan was, is, and always will be a child of God. And we commemorate, we celebrate, that despite all the darkness, there was light in this life too.

Susan was a Swansea girl. (Don’t we “wish that they all could be Abertawe girls”?) She was born in Waun Wen in 1937. Her father was a steelworker, but the war quickly took him away, leaving mum on her own with the little one. It was hard, and from her early childhood Susan was afraid of being alone. Loneliness …

At fifteen Susan was working in company, in a sewing factory. A few years later she wed her childhood sweetheart Simon, who worked for Birdseye. Their two children, Christine and Martin, recall that the freezer was never empty (and I imagine that fish fingers are either their most, or least, favourite food). Like Susan herself, however, the marriage was a rollercoaster, up and down, down and up, but more or less managing to stay on the tracks through the years. When she was up, Susan was glamorous and outgoing. She kept a tidy house, very tidy, and when Coronation Street was on you knew where she would be; but then you also knew where she would be when the soap’s credits rolled – at the social. Loneliness … and company …

Most of all, Susan loved her kids, and her kids’ kids – they kept her going. But beyond friends and family, sensitive soul that she was, Susan kept company with others who might themselves be alone, latterly working as a warden in sheltered accommodation. She also helped out here, at church, at social events. Susan was a hard worker. But then there were medical problems, they slowed Susan down, and then when Simon finally died after a long illness, she stalled: she couldn’t move on, couldn’t fit in, and, feeling forsaken, finally couldn’t bear her own company. A keen knitter, Susan unravelled; an avid flower-arranger, she wilted. Finally, death broke into the house, and she mistook the robber for a friend.

A sad story? So sad. But end of story? One final time, no! Because although she may not have known it, Susan was never alone. And though she may have felt, finally, like the only actor in a tragic tale produced by an idiot, she was, in fact – and remains – one of a cast of characters in the love story of God for his people, and though they wander about the stage like lost sheep, the Director is always there, shepherding them to the end. Home – and not “home alone”! – there, we pray, Susan is now. And however benighted she often felt, or however bright she sometimes sparkled, now, we trust, perpetual light shines upon her, and she is safe in the company of the angels and the saints.

As for us, let us weep indeed, let us mourn and miss, but not as those without hope, rather as those more than ever resolved to treasure each other as the people God gives us as precious gifts, to enjoy and to love.


Anonymous said...

This brought tears to my eyes---thank you so much for posting this homily, and I hope that you will not be offended if I use something of your words in the years to come.

Fat said...

"Finally, death broke into the house, and she mistook the robber for a friend."

How do you put so much into so few words? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"A sad story? So sad. But end of story? One final time, no!"

Thanks, Kim, this is a blessing to read. This line reminded me of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

"Man, how fast his firedint, ' his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ' nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection."

All the best,

kim fabricius said...

And the conclusion of the poem, often called "Nature's Bonfire" (though I cannot duplicate Hopkins' typography):

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Robin said...

That's a powerful sermon, and I'm sorry to say that I know what I'm talking about.

Pamela said...

When my mother, Belle (now 77 yrs old) was 24, her father took his own life (by hanging). With her three year old son on her hip, it was Belle who found his body. So, Belle's life was taken too. And the impact has been felt by us all. I was born five years after my grandfather's death and so never had the chance to know him, only to see my mother's pain.

Shane said...

As someone who has attempted suicide, and still experiences the effects of depression, this sermon really hit home.

You hit it on the head, especially the feelings of loneliness.

One of the better aspects of it is that it allows me to see the need for community, for solidarity, before the cross.

God Bless,

Alain Epp Weaver said...

For anyone who has had a family member who had mistaken the robber for a friend, your sermon is a true blessing.

Pamela said...

Alain, thanks for your comment. The sermon was articulate and empathetic and certainly, in an intellectual sense, "a blessing". Emotionally what has been a blessing, for me, has been a husband who has taught me the meaning of love, a mother who has fought her demons all her life and continues to fight and friends (Christian and non-Christian) who support unconditionally.
God working hard through all these means.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting have helped beyond measure, An antidote to Christian condemnation...

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