Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)

The Rector writes ...   

I realise that this is a theme I have written about on a number of previous occasions, and, sadly, I would expect to do so again in the future. This week I was called to the intensive care unit of a local hospital to administer the Last Rites of the Church to a man who was dying. His family were gathered around and they clearly wanted a priest to be there at the end: deeply unconscious by his stage, the man died a few minutes later. As I left the ward I was approached by another family who asked for my contact details as they would want me to come to administer the Last Rites to a family member also in intensive care– but only once she had become unconscious, as they did not want her to be upset by my presence. In both cases – from apparently the best of motives – each family was denying something of crucial importance to those they love: because they were upset by the proximity of death they did not want either of their family members to know how close death was. The whole of our life on earth is a preparation for our encounter with God, face to face, and everything should be done to facilitate that moment of truth and judgement.

To pretend that death is other than it is both in ourselves and in those we love raises complex question as to the nature of belief. Each Sunday we profess our belief in the resurrection of Jesus as being the “first fruits” of our own individual resurrection but do we actually allow the Paschal Mystery to make any real difference to our own way of living and of dying? For the first witnesses to Easter what they saw and touched opened up a new dimension of living: they had seen a body in death which they now experienced as being renewed in life. They accepted that Jesus’s transcendence of the grave was the gateway for them, offering a way through death, and removing the human fear of annihilation. The preaching of the New Testament has the ring of utter conviction. Here are men and women who will allow neither pressure nor persecution to undermine the message.  “God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that.  Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father, the Holy Spirit who was promised and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit (Acts 2:33).

In giving us these six weeks of Eastertide each year, the Church provides the opportunity for a mature reflection on the Apostolic teaching, but it is worth asking ourselves how much we take for granted rather than making it our own. Of course we accept that the Paschal Mystery stands at the heart of Christianity and that in Saint Paul’s words: “if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless” (I Corinthians 15:14) but what significance does the resurrection of the body have for us? Does it mean that we can view death in other than a negative light? Does it allow us to talk with those we love about their own dying? At the very time when we are “trembling on the edge of eternity” there is so much that ought to be said, so much that could be shared – and these precious moments so easily pass into obfuscation as our embarrassment and lack of a language to express personal faith lead us to offer platitudes. At the very point where our loved ones most need honesty and transparency, the temptation is to hide behind a smokescreen of pretence.

No one who has the privilege to be close to someone in their last hours can be other than humbled by the experience – and by the responsibility. None of us ever feels up to the challenge but we do have the reassurance of Jesus’ promise: “do not worry about what to say, because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say” (Luke 13: 12).

Christopher Colven