A Brief Sermon For A Memorial Service

Tonight, one of my churches holds an ‘All Souls Service’, where we invite all the families for whom we have conducted funerals over the past year. (My other church will do the same in a fortnight.) One church I previously served also had such a service, but the Anglican rector always took that, and so I was never involved. This evening, then, is my first stab at such a service. We shall scroll the names of the deceased on the screen, while family members light a candle in memory of their loved one, and our worship group will quietly sing some music while that happens.

Meanwhile, here is what I plan to preach.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Most of the funerals I take are for people whom I have never had the privilege of knowing. I know that can create a hurdle to leap between a grieving family and me, the minister.

Tonight, I am conscious of a further hurdle. The great majority of you had your loved one’s funeral conducted by my predecessor, Nick Oborski. He has now moved to Epsom, and I came here to replace him two months ago.

What I want to share with you in these few thoughts this evening is quite personal. The Bible reading we heard a few moments ago is one that is special to me. It became special to me eight years ago when a dear friend to my wife and me died of breast cancer. Carolyn was only 41. I chose this Bible passage for her funeral, and it has meant a lot to me ever since.

The theme I want to take from it is ‘Grieving with Hope’. Let me introduce it this way.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, I notice two main trends when I visit a bereaved family to arrange a funeral. One is the distraught family, overcome with grief. The other is the family that says something like this: ‘Dad wouldn’t want us to be sad. We want the funeral to be a celebration of his life.’ One family majors on sorrow, the other on joy. One is focussed on grief, the other on hope.

Paul says,

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. (Verse 13)

He doesn’t say, ‘do not grieve’: he says, ‘do not grieve like [those] who have no hope’. In other words, we can grieve with hope. Grief and hope. Sorrow and joy. Grief, but not hopeless. Sorrow, but not despairing.

Paul is real about the grief and sorrow that death brings. It isn’t for nothing that elsewhere he calls death ‘the last enemy’. Death is an enemy. We recognise that in our language. When someone dies after a protracted illness, we often say they ‘lost their battle’ with the disease. You battle an enemy.

And death is an enemy. It takes away from us people we love dearly. They can never be replaced. We can never be the same. Our lives take on a new shape over a period of time, but we all miss them.

In the face of an enemy’s action, our grief is not selfish. It is normal. We grieve, because we love. The one we love is no longer here for us to love. Our hearts ache with the pain, and we grieve. Anything less is unnatural.

You may know a popular reading at funerals is a piece called ‘Death is nothing at all’ by Henry Scott Holland. I have read it at funerals, but my problem is that death isn’t nothing, it’s a real and present enemy. Taken the way they are at funerals, you would think Holland was trivialising the grief experience. But they are lifted out of context from a sermon he preached when King Edward VII died. The sermon was called ‘King of Terrors’, and he knew well the terror that death brings.

So let us be real about grief. Let us own it. We don’t get anywhere without being honest about reality. And the reality of death leads us to grief.

However, says Paul, we grieve with hope. Let’s go back to that language of death being about ‘losing a battle’. Often we may also say – although not necessarily in connection with death – that someone has ‘lost the battle, but won the war’. Essentially, that’s what Christians say about death, and why we grieve with hope. We may ‘lose the battle’ in death, but in the long run we ‘win the war’.

How can we say that?

It’s because of the next thing Paul says:

We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (Verse 14)

‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again.’ That’s the key. Jesus didn’t merely die. He rose from the dead. That may seem a fantastic and ridiculous claim in an age when atheist scientists claim to reduce religious belief to a delusion, but I believe there is decent historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t have time to go into it now, and besides you didn’t RSVP to a lecture tonight. However, since I believe Jesus is risen, I believe he shows the way to hope. I believe his resurrection is the winning of the war that trumps the losing of the battle in death.

It’s by trusting our lives into Jesus’ hands and committing to follow him that we share this hope. He wants to share it with everyone. But it’s a gift that needs to be received.

Let me tell you a story. When I was young, my Dad tried to explain the Christian hope in the face of death to me. Dad worked in banking, and he asked me to imagine that NatWest had ordered him to take a new post with them in Australia. How would we feel?

Well, I would be upset not to see him, I said. Much as I loved Mum and my sister, I would not want to be parted from him.

Yes, he said, of course you would feel like that. But while we remained behind in England, he would not only be working but preparing a new home and new life for us. Then, one day when that was ready, we would move to Australia and be reunited.

For the follower of Jesus, death is like that temporary parting. While it lasts, it is full of anguish. But one day it will end, and there will be a joyful reunion. This is the grieving with hope that is Jesus’ gift to all who put their faith in him.

Let me finish with a piece that echoes that idea. It’s called ‘What is Dying?’ by Charles Henry Brent:

What is dying?
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship sails and spreads her white sails to
the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty
and I stand and watch her till at last
she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side says, “She is gone.”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all;
she is just as large in the masts,
hull and spars as she was when I saw her,
and just as able to bear her load
of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight
is in me, not in her.
And just at that moment when someone at my side says,
“She is gone”,
there are others who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up the glad shout,
“There she comes”,
and that is dying.


  1. I have two comments. First, you don’t preach like Methodist preachers in America. I won’t go further, but please take that as a compliment. Secondly, your verse from I Thess was a vital part of my recent Eulogy to my grandpa, who was important to my life. We do grieve, but not like those without hope. Excellent sermon!


    1. Thanks, Dan. (I’m not sure what certain American Methodists who read this will think!) But yes, that verse is special to me since our friend Carolyn died in 2002. I preached in greater detail on the passage at her funeral, and looked for that sermon when preparing this one. For some reason, though, it wasn’t filed int he way I expected it to be.

      I felt for you when I read about you giving the eulogy at your grandpa’s funeral.


      1. I am truly touched by this sermon.. and I have a funeral to deliver a sermon that I believe this sermon is just timely for the bereaved. Can I have the permission to please use your sermon for that day? Blessings


        1. Dear Gabriel, I am still astonished how people react to this sermon twelve years on. Yes, of course you may use the sermon.

          On a different subject, your website was flagged by my security software as containing malware.


  2. such a profound sermon, inspiring, & uplifting. I am a Filipino Methodist Pastor here in the Philippines (Evangelical Methodist Church in the Philippines) and thank you for this wonderful sermon. Praise the Lord.


  3. How wonderful it is for us who believe that grief is only turned to joy BECAUSE HE LIVES. Thank you for that inspiring sermon. The Lord has used you to bring solace and comfort speaking at a time like this


  4. I really find peace with this sermon. it is true that we may get ourselves grieve for having lost someone but we should however grieve with hope so that we may be able to move on after the tragic loss.


  5. i am a methodist, ifind the sermon very inspiring and soul lifting. May God richly bless you. it is very simple and easy to comprehend. thanks again.


  6. This sermon is so inspiring and works as solace. I lost ma father two years ago. How I wish I met such a sermon immediately I lost ma beloved. I thank you so much. Grieving is only dangerous when without HOPE! And hope in Christ Jesus.Thank you so much.


  7. Thankz Rev Sir, I went read thru your wonderful brief Memo Service srmon note. Reality it speakks facts intact not to deny its truth. Y? coz I want to comfort my bro who lost his dear wife battled cancer. His children could not take it and claims it unfair on to God when they are yet youths and yet the mom not around. Well I pray as I will illustrate some of your facts and may it be a great comfort for my grieving brother for her 1st yearRmemo family service . God blez Rev. From Pastor Charles Sundram Malaysia,


  8. I really appreciate this sermon and would like to use large excerpts for an upcoming memorial service. May I borrow liberally without publishing credits?


      1. Thank you. My friend is dying and she does not know the Lord. No one in her immediate family wants to hear much about “religion”. It is a very difficult situation. She has lost the battle with cancer and I want her to know that Jesus has won the war. I am sharing your sermon with her now in small pieces and I am adapting for her eulogy.


  9. very good.excellent.thinking of using some of it for a memorial i have been asked to conduct for one whom i have not seen and will not see anymore.


  10. Dear Man of God
    I m really blessed with this information . One thing touched me deeply that we grieve but not like other who are without hope.


  11. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. (Market: The LOST). The Bible says that the SICK are in need of helanig, not those who aren’t sick. (Market: Those who need the helanig that Christ provides).Media? Word of mouth advertising. (Think: Viral Media). Nobody has ever done it better than JC Himself.Message? Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest I think the problem is when our church body begins to think of ourselves as apart from The Church , ie. All Believers.Granted, doctrinal differences, denominational differences, all these things will divide in some way.But ultimately, if we put forth an authentic Brand of Christ’s love to the world, in conjunction with MEETING THE MARKET WHERE THEY ARE (the lost, the weary, the tax collector, the prostitute, the fisherman, the shepherd) with A MESSAGE THAT SPEAKS TO THEIR HEART, via a form of communication that impacts them (MEDIA, however you achieve this), then you’re doing the right thing.You can’t separate them if you’re going to have an effective and vibrant ministry. That’s why the Bible says we’re not all an eye, or an ear, or the same body part. Lots of different roles for each to play. And to fill those roles in the church, we need to reach out to people in a way that meets them where they are, so they become engaged, and step up to the plate and do the task God has for them. Branding is a silly technical marketing term for loving people where they are at (in terms of what the church is trying to accomplish).Ultimately God’s love comes first. But if various ministries or departments take on their own brand of sorts, in an organic way (or even in a planned way), so long as it’s authentic, I think God uses that to draw people to Himself.


  12. What a great simple understandable and workable sermon much appreciated will utilize some experts to better myself in presenting at funerals thank so much


  13. I am very pleased with your sermon,its encouraging,grieving without hope is nothing.your supporting comment also lift up my spirit.Thanks God bless you.


  14. Hi Dave, Simple, thoughtful, inspiring and consoling and apt for the occasion sermon.
    I love the part about death-The lost battle and Lofe after- The war we ultimately win. I think this summarises the HOPE part for me.
    I think I will be borrowing some of your analogy in my Service of Songs for one of my friends who passed last week.


  15. thank you for your message. This is what the bereaved family should hear. simple yet profound. Thanks for allowing us to share this message. God bless you.


  16. firstly i like the articulation of the sermon, short, precise and on point. i lost my mom 19years ago, that is in 2003, i took a lot of time thinking of since she was dear to me. whenever i achieved something in ministry i think of her because she was a preacher in the Methodist Church In Zimbabwe. this sermon helped again to realign my faith and my trust in God, knowing that we have to ‘Grieving with Hope’. lastly, i like the last part WHAT IS DYING, it speaes volumes. thank you once again.


    1. I am so glad to read that this sermon helped you with your grief and your hope. Little did I know when I wrote this sermon in 2010 that it would still help people years later and that it would touch people around the world. Thank you, and God bless you.


  17. I remember a similar sermon to this and it’s message has been truly important for me. I’ve relied on sermons on grief specially the ones by Keion Henderson, https://www.keionhenderson.com/sermons-on-grief and his when I lost my Father to Cancer last year. I have gained the strength to go on living knowing that one day, we will meet again and be happy in the Lord’s presence in paradise.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Don, and I am sorry to hear about your father. Since I wrote this sermon I have lost both of my parents. And thank you for the recommendation of Keion Henderson – a new name to me.


  18. I am an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church minister and I am blessed by your message. I Thessalonians 4:13 ff is also my favourite. May God bless you man of God


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