Death - sharing prayers of love with those who are bereaved

4    Death - sharing prayers of love with those who are bereaved

Sharing Friendship                                                                                          30 minutes

As people arrive light refreshments are served.  This week’s ‘table ornament’  as a focus for reflection and prayer is a bowl of perfumed wipes.  Place the bowl on the table among the refreshments.  It will be helpful to have a low table in the middle of the room, or at some appropriate focal point, where the bowl  can be placed as the second part of the session begins.

Once the group is settled and everyone has arrived gather the group together and begin to focus the conversation a little more.

·       go round the circle and invite each person to recall some of the things that they have been doing over the last week, and share anything special that has happened.
·       go round the circle a second time and invite people to recall anything they have done in the last week in response to the thoughts and prayers that were shared last week.

Sharing Reflections on the Bible                                                                     30 minutes

Take the bowl of perfumed wipes and place it on the table in the middle of the circle.

Sharing with one another in times of bereavement is a central part of what we do in the family of the church.  It has been from the very first.

Read Romans 12:9-15

Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Weep with those who weep.

When he heard of the death of his friend Lazarus Jesus wept.
They were not crocodile tears.  They were the tears of one who knew what it was like to weep with those who weep.

The story of Jesus and Lazarus is often told in such a way as to focus on the raising of Lazarus.  Indeed, it is usually known as ‘The Raising of Lazarus’.  Today we are focusing our thoughts on prayer in bereavement and so we are going to focus on the middle part of the story - the part which tells of Jesus’ relationship with the two sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, in their time of bereavement.

Read John 11:1-37

John 11:1-37 lends itself to a dramatised reading; it also lends itself to being ‘told’ by a ‘story-teller’.  Our focus today is on the way Jesus shared with the two sisters in their bereavement.  It may be best to re-tell the story in verses 1-16 and then read verses 17-37.  Alternatively do a dramatised reading of the whole passage.  If you have a story-teller who ‘re-tells’ the story make sure you keep close to the dialogue in verses 17-35.

Let’s focus very closely on the way Jesus shares first with Martha and then with Mary in their experience of bereavement.  Do you notice any things which accord with your own experience of bereavement?  Do you notice any things which accord with the experience of bereavement that you have shared with other people or others have had?

The theme this evening calls for a great deal of sensitivity on the part of the leader of the group.  It is the kind of theme which will touch some people very deeply. It is the kind of theme that can only be addressed at this kind of stage in a course, once the group is coming together and has an understanding and a feeling for each other.

Allow the group simply to share their responses to these questions - as leader you might look out for some of these points ...

Points to look out for in John 11:17-37

·       the way friends and neighbours come to comfort the two sisters [19]
·       the way Martha wants to talk to Jesus ... and looks him out ... and Jesus’ willingness to talk with her [20-27]
·       the way Mary is over-wrought by weeping ... and the way Jesus doesn’t burden her with words but finds himself overwhelmed and weeps with her [33-35]
·       the longing and the bargaining both Martha and Mary enter into - if only you’d been here this would not have happened [21 and 32].
·       the hope of resurrection Jesus offers [25-26]
·       the faith that Jesus prompts within Martha’s heart [26-27]
·       the way some of the friends and neighbours are simply moved by Jesus’ love [36] whereas others are still at the stage of bargaining [36].

Allow a good period of time sharing reflections on this passage.  Then invite the group to share experiences of bereavement, things that have helped them, and people and organisations they have found helpful.  This calls for sensitivity on the part of the leader and the group - it is only at this stage in a course when the members of a group have confidence in one another that this kind of sharing can be fruitful.  It would be helpful to have information about the way your church offers support in bereavement, and about other organisations like Cruse and Winston’s Wish which offer support in bereavement.

Sharing Prayer                                                                                                            30 minutes

Play some quiet, reflective music.  Make sure that the bowl of perfumed wipes is on the table in the centre of the circle, or in some appropriate place.

Jesus himself made a painful journey to his own death on a cross.   On the way there were people who helped him.

Simon of Cyrene carried his cross.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, stayed as close to him as she could.

The women of Jerusalem wept for him.

Tradition has it that one woman, Veronica, stepped forward and wiped his brow.  Her act of loving kindness is remembered by all who share in the Stations of the Cross.

As we share prayer in bereavement and come alongside each other in the bereavement we experience let’s remember the way of the cross taken by Jesus and the grief he shared with us, the grief he continues to share.

Play the sequence at the end of part three of Jesus for Today, the first programme on the Video, Jesus: today, tomorrow, forever?  which depicts the stations of the cross.

Pause for a moment of quiet reflection.

Take the bowl of perfumed wipes in your hands.

A woman in the crowd stepped forward to wipe his brow.

In a moment we shall pass this bowl of perfumed wipes around the circle.  As you receive the bowl take that as an opportunity to put into words a prayer for someone you know who is facing a time of sadness or bereavement.  If you would rather simply share the silence of prayer hold the bowl for a moment or two and then pass it on.

As the bowl is passed around the circle each person has the opportunity to share a prayer.

When the bowl has completed the circle once more take it in your hands.

A woman in the crowd stepped forward to wipe his brow.
Tradition has given that woman a name.

As you receive the bowl take look at the person next to you, say ‘Peace be with you,’ and name them.  Then take a perfumed wipe and wipe their brow.  Keep the wipe you have used in your hands as the bowl is passed around the circle and we all share in quiet prayer together.

Look at the person next to you, say, ‘Peace be with you,’ and name them.  Wipe their brow, and then pass the bowl to them.  The last person in the circle will wipe your brow and pass the bowl to you.

Once more we shall pass the bowl around our circle.  This time we shall focus our prayers on those who help others in their bereavement.  Remember those who share pastoral care in your own church, remember those who work in hospice care, those who belong to organisations like Cruse who work primarily with adults and Winston’s Wish who work primarily with children who are bereaved.  As you receive the bowl place your used wipe back in the bowl and then as you hold the bowl in your hands take the opportunity to share words of prayer for those who help others in their bereavement ... or simply share a moment or two of silence in prayer ... and then pass the bowl on.

The bowl is passed around the circle as prayers are shared for those who help others in their bereavement.

The experience of bereavement can itself be like a journey.

It is a journey that  takes us through many mixed up emotions - of shock and denial, of guilt and bargaining, of anger and bitterness, of sadness and grief.  Today’s prayer meditation was put together by a group which included the Rev Glyn Jenkins who played the part of Caiaphas in the Passion Play, and has been involved in a pastoral ministry for many years and by Dr John Lyle who played the part of the disciple John at the foot of the cross, and who is the GP linked with the Sue Ryder Home, Cheltenham’s hospice.  It is read by Wendy Dawson who played the part of Mary the mother of Jesus, and who tells of her own experience of bereavement most movingly in Jesus for Today.  All had shared in different ways in this grieving process.

Play the fourth prayer meditation, Death, from Jesus forever the same on the Video Jesus: today, tomorrow, forever?

Pause for a moment of quiet reflection.

Read Psalm 23  -  you may prefer to use the words of the Authorised Version.

Are they the scales of justice, badly out of balance?
Or is it a cross?
Is it a cross weighed down by the burdens of injustice?
As we see this cross may it remind us that
Jesus calls us to follow in the way of the cross
to rejoice with those who rejoice and
to weep with those who weep.

Say The Grace together.

After a short pause, play some quiet music once more.  Have copies of the prayer meditation Death ready for people to take home.