Just before Christmas we discovered that a close friend of ours had sadly died from a rare form of pneumonia, aged just 28. We had known James extremely well for 16 years, and had seen him grow up from a child to a young adult, vibrant, talented, fun-loving, caring and outgoing. One of the many tributes written on social media rightly acknowledged that 'he lit up the room whenever he was present, whatever was happening'.
Born into a Christian family, from the moment he entered into the world he was a valuable part of the church family, growing up through Junior Church, and taking a full part in worship from the earliest of ages, right through into his adulthood. He would be present whenever he could at worship, as well as playing an active part in mid-week activities and the wider work and witness of the church. His presence will be greatly missed, not only by his family, his church family, as well as many friends and colleagues, having been a member of the Cabin Crew for Ryan Air for many years.
Whenever such events overcome us, it is natural to ask the question of our God: 'Why?!' Indeed, we look at our world and see tragic loss each and every day - for instance the son who allegedly killed his mother because she had tried to persuade him to leave so-called ISIS demonstrates that we are seeing a new kind of depravity of mankind's inhumanity to humankind.
We discovered though in the Christmas story that God may not offer directly an answer to the 'why' - but has responded by entering our lives fully in His Son, Jesus Christ, to share our humanity, so that we might know the extent of His love for us in this world and the next. Through Jesus' own life we learn of His vulnerability - from the earliest of age when Herod is reported to have killed 2,000 innocent children in an attempt to get rid of this Christ-child. By the skin of His teeth he and His parent survive, only for later in His life to be hounded by the authorities who dislike intensely what He is saying and doing, despite His attempts simply to extend God's love to all. Such events remind us of our own vulnerability in the midst of human life and living.
We discover from the Gospel that Jesus Himself wept when He went to the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus (John 11: 35 - the shortest verse in The Bible!) an important reminder that God weeps with us in our loss. And, when it came to His own suffering just prior to death, Jesus uttered the words: 'My God, why have You abandoned Me' (Matthew 27: 46) - acknowledging that it is only natural in life to feel abandoned by God in times of deep distress or suffering.
With the loss of Jesus, the first disciples were despondent, lost and afraid, with some locking themselves away from the world, and others seeking to escape to the safety of their homes a distance away from painful memories. Into these lost lives, the Risen Lord appeared and turned despair into hope, sadness into joy and death into new life. This enables the Apostle Paul to write some years later: 'For I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life ... in the world as it is or the world as it shall be ... - nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God as its been revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8: 38f).
All this, along with been surrounded with tremendous love and care, has enabled the family of James to find comfort in their loss, despite the deep pain, and amazingly to embrace the words of a poem by Edgar Guest ('A Child of Mine') which concludes: 'Dear Lord, Thy will be done! For all the joys Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we'll run. We'll shelter him with tenderness, we'll love him while we may, and for the happiness we've known, forever grateful stay. But should the angels call for him much sooner than we'd planned, we'll brave the bitter grief that comes, and try to understand'.
This family - and all the families mourning their loved ones at this time whatever their age or circumstance - will hopefully find comfort in the words of Jesus, who reassures all who believe: 'There's lots of room in My Father's eternal kingdom... and I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be also'. (John 14: 2 - 3 [para]). In other words, this life is but a preparation for a greater life that is to come, so that, in the natural tears of parting, we are given an assurance that we will meet again - for this is the gift offered through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord.