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Building on Difficulties and Hardship

When an adult or older person dies

by An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To look at the Christian belief that death is not simply an end but also a beginning.

Preparation and materials

  • It is important to recognize that a range of support – comfort and encouragement – is needed at the right time and tailored to the people who have been bereaved.
  • This assembly is designed to be used as seems best to meet the need, together with other resources. 


1. Asking ‘Why?’ is natural.

It is God's will that each one of us is born, lives and dies. Early deaths, however, are not how God wants life to be. There are many reasons for people dying before their time.

– Many accidents are the sad consequence of our freedom.

– Many illnesses will be curable in the future, we just haven't yet found the answer to them. That's part of the pattern of research – doctors and nurses and researchers work to find cures, building on their experiences of the illness that has led to the death of this and other people.

– We can cause our own death by not caring for ourselves, by not using our bodies properly and not listening to what doctors and others say to us.

2. When Christians speak of Jesus coming to 'live among us', they are talking about the love that is part of the experience of suffering and dying as well as happier times. Close family and friends – and sometimes strangers, too – show it. They are ready to share their love by spending time, sharing a comforting word, holding us and simply being there – not necessarily needing to say a word.

3. People often ask, ‘Is death the end?’

Many of us have a narrow view of life. We see it as being like a journey, but down a one-way street. In Sweden, when someone dies, they say that the person has 'left time' – that is, left the measure of time used in this life, with all its concerns. Now that person is outside time, in eternity where there is no beginning or end.

Sydney Carter wrote the poem 'Run the film backwards'in his book The Two-Way Clock (Stainer & Bell, 2003). It begins:

When I was eighty-seven
They took me from my coffin  . . .

It continues with the story of a man's life as if he started from his death and became ever younger. The final verse says:

And now it is so early
There's nothing I can see.
Before the world, or after?
Wherever can Ibe?

4. Let’s think about the past and the future.

– Try to think about life before being born. A baby is certainly alive in its mother's womb, but it has no idea of the 'world', the 'life' that awaits it. It has its own life ahead of it, its own world.

– At birth, there is a struggle. The baby enters a new world, a new life that didn't exist just a few seconds before its birth. The past life is not remembered; the new life seems to be everything.

– So, life is lived until the time comes to face death. At that time, we can be frightened about the future – for ourselves or the person who is dying. What comes next? Compare our thoughts on this with our lack of memory of living before this life.

– What is next?

– Rather than trying to explain everything – everything can't be explained – or trying to explain something complex quickly or falling into the use of religious language that sounds clever but doesn't help, leave space for God to work in his time, in his way and be part of his love.

Time for reflection


We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.
You did not lose them when you gave them to us,
and we do not lose them by their return to you.
Your dear son has taught us that life is eternal,
and love cannot die.
So death is only an horizon, and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.
Open our eyes to see more clearly,
and draw us closer to you that we may know that we are nearer to our loved ones,
who are with you.
You have told us that you are preparing a place for us:
prepare us also for that place,
that where you are we may also be always,
O dear Lord of life and death.

William Penn (1644–1718) 

Publication date: April 2015   (Vol.17 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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