Eight years ago today, I took the funeral of a young man who had been the victim of a particularly brutal murder. It was, and I hope will remain, the most traumatic funeral I have ever had to walk alongside a family.
When we open our church doors to the community, we do so primarily as a place to bring their pain. This is ultimately true even of weddings and christenings, for to birth a marriage or a child into the world is to open ourselves to the inevitability of pain, even if the gas-and-air of celebrations takes the edge of it.
And the Church says, here is a place where you can always bring your pain; a safe place where you can sit with it long enough not to get over it but perhaps to make peace with it. Where the burden can be shared, by neighbours who will pray for you (some ask, what good does that do? but, at times, there is nothing else that can be done), by those who have gone before us, by the Son of Man who gladly carries our infirmities and burdens.
I knew a man once who had come into the church for the funeral of his daughter, a young woman taken too soon by cancer, and who from then on found it too hard to enter the building. His coming to church, from then on, was to mow the church lawn, alongside others who did the same. He did so, religiously, as they say. It matters not which side of the door he was on. In so doing, he was held together while he healed to the possibility of a new life, that carried the memory of another.
And for those of us whose wounds are not raw, the church is a place where we come in from walking alongside our neighbours, and receive the bread and wine and cold water of the Spirit poured out over us, that refreshes us in preparation for another day, another week, seeking out the heavy-laden and saying, there is a place where you can go.