July 26, 2015
Delivered by Rev. Dr. Camille Cook Murray / Sermon title: “How to Write a Condolence Letter”
Text: Luke 11
Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus, strong ladies, “felt the heat” when their dear brother Lazarus died. Mary and Martha had faith. They believed Jesus was a miracle worker, but they didn’t think that even Jesus could do anything for their brother once he had died. It was too late to make a difference. Jesus’s reaction to the news of his death was two-fold. First, Jesus said he was glad to hear Lazarus had died. Glad to hear he had died? Yes–Jesus was glad for the chance to reveal himself even further to his followers. But gladness was not his only reaction in the face of death. But Jesus also has a very personal and emotional reaction in the face of death. In the company of the grieving community, Jesus sat down and wept. Jesus in his own tears makes a public acknowledgement of the pain that death causes in life. Those are the two reactions to death from Jesus and they serve as a good guide for us as we try to figure out our own response to death of loved ones or to those who grieve beside us.
In the face of death, grief and loss, Presbyterians want to know what they should do. What is a faithful Christian response in face of death? What on earth do you write in a condolence card? Knowing what we believe helps to shape our response, but knowing Jesus’ response helps even more.
We need our letters to tell a bit about the promises of good news in our faith: the hope, the peace, the joy there is for those who die in the Lord. Jesus said to Mary and Martha that those who believe in him and die, will live. That is the lesson Jesus was glad to get to teach them, that no resurrection was not a metaphor—it was a new life for those who had completed lives on this earth. This is the gladness Christ holds for us in death and this should something we try to share with others in times of grief.
I urge you, regardless of how difficult it is to find the words, to write those notes to your friends and family in times of grief.
So here are my five pointers for how to write a condolence letter:
say something about the person – something you valued, something you admired, something you will miss
say something about how you find hope or gladness in your faith
say something to acknowledge their grief
quote the Bible
tell them you are there for them (and mean it)
Let me give you an example:
It is hard for me to write this note to you on the eve of Gerald’s death. He was a man of great integrity and a loyal colleague to me for many years. I will miss his insights, his story telling, and his boisterous laugh. At times like these, I take comfort in the promises of the gospel that death is not the final chapter for us. I trust this is true for Gerald. Even so, I know this time will be filled with much sadness for you and your family. May you know, as it says in Philippians, “the peace, which passes all understanding, and may God guide your heart and mind in Christ.” I am praying for you, and we are here for you if there is anything you need. I will call you in a few weeks to see what I can do or find a time to go for lunch.
God’s blessings of unconditional love and abiding comfort to you,
Letters like these are important reminders for the bereaved, because times of grief and hardship can cause us to waver in our faith. Mary and Martha in their fog of loss, stumbled and questioned and doubted. But Jesus could handle that. He could handle the grief. He could handle the doubts. And, thank God, he could handle the death.
I am the resurrection and the life, he said, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Write it, say it, believe it.
Using the 5 points listed above, write a condolence letter. You can make up the scenario, or you can use a scenario from your past. Remember to hold onto the two truths: the Good News of Jesus and the grief of the present loss.