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notre dame montreal

Commemoration Service

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Our Old Testament reading today was from Genesis and it was part of the story of Jacob, a story which is so familiar to many of us

In the story, Jacob, the younger brother has just cheated Esau, his elder bother out of the blessing and inheritance from his father Isaac

Not surprisingly ‘Esau held a grudge against him’. So on the advice of his mother Rebekah, Jacob set off for a place called Haran where her brother lived. There he was cheated by Laban into marrying Leah before he was allowed to marry Rachel and then Jacob cheated Laban out of some of his flocks and decided it was time to go back to face the music with Esau. What you might call today a bit of a dysfunctional family and certainly not the saint we might often think that some of the Old Testament characters are.

The reading today describes the dream that Jacob had at Bethel and his encounter with God, a story which is often called Jacob’s ladder, or perhaps more accurately, God’s stairway

It’s an appropriate reading for today because in it we can catch a glimpse of heaven as the veil that separates heaven from the earth is drawn back for a moment and we get to look inside, as the angels ascend and descend

In the passage, God meets with Jacob, who at this stage is in dire straits as he flees for his life. He’s probably feeling a mixture of fear, anger, confusion, wondering what’s going on and why did God let things happen like this.

In all, God will meet and speak with Jacob 8 times in Genesis, often at night or when Jacob is surrounded by darkness or uncertainty. And each time it when Jacob is on a journey or results in him moving on. One of the next times God will speak with Jacob is when he is returning from Laban to meet up with Easu.

It’s as if God is meeting Jacob at the borders of his life, encounters him when there is a major change or event in his life

Often that is the case for us, either when we loose a loved one, or perhaps when a new baby is born. For a moment sometimes it’s as if we encounter God in the depths of our despair or loneliness or the heights of our wonderment and amazement as new life breaks forth into the world

And at the core of the Jacob story today are words and a theme which re-occurs through them all. They are words too that God speaks to us in our time of loss, our sadness and our grief.

God says to Jacob, ‘I will be with you’. Just 2 words in the original (Hebrew language, ‘nki omk) as he shows Jacob the connection, the gateway between heaven and earth.

Jacob finds himself of the edge of heaven with no great chasm between heaven and earth but stairs to climb between the two.

But this is more than just a reassurance that heaven exists, of another dimension to life where God may be found, it’s a picture of heaven whose doors are open and is accessible, indeed heaven is coming down to earth and is communicating with humankind

A heaven where we can speak to God and tell Him all that we are feeling, the loneliness, the pain, the unfinished words. He is a God who hears and speaks to us

The image in Genesis is therefore an image of great encouragement and hope amid all the darkness and confusion, for Jacob and for us.

That doesn’t make death any less painful, because we’re dealing with humanity, we’re not robots, the God who came down to earth gave us feelings and emotions so that we could experience life to the full, both the joys and the heartaches and all places in between

Death is part of God’s overall plan and cycle, a visible step along our eternal journey and throughout that journey he offers hope and assurance to us, just as He did to Jacob over many years.

God is there with us in with us in our pain, He says, ‘I will be with you’. Even though we may not see or feel Him, He too lost a Son in painful circumstances and so can identify with us in our grieving process.

At the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, prayers are said for loved ones who are no longer with us.

Specifically they are remembered as they were, remembered as they are today in our hearts and remembered as they will be in the future in the heaven that God makes assessable through his staircase

He is with us and our loved ones, as we remember them as they and we were, as we remember them now as we light a candle, and as we leave and head off into the future.

He assures us of a heaven which is accessible and open, He is with us in the pain of bereavement and he is with us and our loved ones, in our past, in our present and in our future