Lamentation and Love

The altar within the Church of Dominus Flevit (Latin for ‘The Lord Wept’) in Jerusalem.

On All Souls Day (2nd November 2022) we remember those who have died, following remembering the Saints the day before on All Hallows Day. There are many people to remember, for me the death of my father on 3rd August 2022 is and was the most prominent memory.

At the annual All Souls Service on Sunday 30th October, I gave the following short homily after a reading from the book of Lamentations. I hope you find it helpful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
    ‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

For the Lord will not
reject for ever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

When someone dies our thoughts and feelings can be rather mixed up. The same is true for those whose death is in the past. The loss of people we love, even of people we had a difficult or complicated relationship with, can feel very cruel. If their death was a sudden one, it can feel as if someone has been torn away from us and left a deep scar that we can’t imagine healing. When their death has followed illness and suffering, their final journey in this world can also be painful to recover from. Conversely the relief that can come from a loved one being freed from their suffering can cause us to feel guilt, as though we somehow wished their life away. In the maelstrom of our thoughts and feelings, it is not unusual to question whether God is a loving God.

In the mourning for Queen Elizabeth (after her death in September), a quote she once used came back into public prominence. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, she quoted Colin Murray Parkes who wrote:

“The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.”

Colin Murray Parkes in Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life (1972)

In other words love finds its fullness in loss: our grief for those no longer with us is a sign that we both loved them and were loved by them. It is a grief that arises out of absence, a grief for a stream of love that flows no more. And it is an experience that Jesus shared with us, not least through the death of his friend Lazarus and through his suffering that anticipated His own death.

The Book of Lamentations we heard read from, acts as a reminder that God not only wants to hear our praise and worship, but also our despair and detachment. It’s written from a place of suffering, but it is a suffering that connects with hope through love — because one cannot truly lament something that one does not love.

We lament the perilous state people find themselves in because we love the people and planet affected by poverty, pollution and war. And we lament the loss of people this evening because of our love for them, and theirs for us. But we are not meant to remain in lament. To remain in lament limits the flow of love: our love for those we have lost, their love for us, and God’s love for both.

God’s love is more than a sticking plaster or medicine to heal the pain. It is a love that grieves with us, a love that knows the pain of loss. And it is a love that bridges the living and the departed. For Jesus didn’t just experience love and loss, He opened up eternity so that we and those whose death we mourn may both ever be in the very presence of God’s love — even those whose faith in God we could not see.

The writer of Lamentations made the choice to find completeness by remembering the nature of God’s love, mercies, and hope. They chose to remember that God is with us even through the difficult times. They chose to remember that though the days may be dark, there is hope that lights our path through them. They chose to remember that though we might lament, we and those we mourn are held in God’s love.

God wants us to accept His love so that we might find joy not only in what was but what will be — for we will be reconnected with those we mourn. God’s love won’t just reunite us with those we have lost, but will mourn and lament with us until we are reunited. And through God’s daily mercies, until we are reunited, that love will make our lamentations complete and bring us joy in our remembering of those that have gone before us.

Amen

An exercise in brevity and thanks

I was asked to give a short homily for a service the Chaplaincy of my local hospital produces for hospital and local radio. For various reasons it needed to be short, but also be helpful and meaningful to the hospital patients lives in particular, but also to those who might listen in from further afield. It became my own little act of thanks for Queen Elizabeth II. Here it is.

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Light into and out of the darkness

Image: The body of a Ukrainian civilian is lifted out of a mass grave near Bucha, Ukraine. Photo © Alex Kent:

Like many I have been haunted by the atrocities, the evil and the darkness that has come from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both that which began on 24th February 2022 and that which began in 2014. When we are experiencing moments of pain and darkness it can be difficult to see the blessings, the hope and the joy of Jesus. This Easter I preached the sermon below looking at how Jesus took His light into the darkness but brought it out too. I hope you find it helpful.

Rev’d Andrew Avramenko, 17th April 2022

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Vulnerability and Scripture

Two placards at a demonstration in support of Ukrainians.  One says "We stand with Ukraine" and the other says "I'm waving this flag so the UK can waive visas".
Picture: My family’s placards at a demonstration in support of Ukrainians that took place in Bath, England on 5th March 2022.

On the First Sunday of Lent, 6th March 2022, I preached to both churches within the Benefice in which I serve my curacy. One of the lectionary readings for the day was part of Psalm 91, a psalm which is particularly challenging for Ukrainians and those who hope for peace to reign in Ukraine – that was certainly the case for me, as the son of a Ukrainian refugee. Through lots of prayer I was drawn to a sermon that challenged, even scared, me because it confronted when scripture is seemingly at odds with our situation. Delivering it to the congregations was equally challenging. Their response was humbling.

Afterwards people asked for a copy of the sermon to be sent to them. And so with that in mind I am posting it here on this blog, something I rarely do because are sermons mostly written for specific congregations and churches, and specific times. But I also rarely publish them because there are theologians, writers and preachers far, far better than me who will see flaws or errors within it that I did not – and that’s a scary and vulnerable place to be in too, but as this sermon does talk about finding ourselves in such places I have indeed posted the sermon below.

It is by no means perfect but I hope it is of help, if it isn’t please try to forget you read it!

Rev’d Andrew Avramenko, 6th March 2022

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comparethecurate.com

Drip.  Drip.  Drip.  
Each one a hint of something greater,
sometimes good,
sometimes helpful,
but too often not.

Drop by drop it rose, 
stealthily, slowly,
obscuring the sources, 
hiding the causes,
until all that remained was the storm.

Doing became difficult, 
being meant bailing.
It was time to take a break from social media, 
but for reasons no one seemed to guess.

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Undermining the Devil’s Foothold

A sermon inspired, in part, by the Lectionary readings for 8th August 2021: John 6:35, 41-51 and Ephesians 4:25-5:2

In August the lectionary presents a series of Bible readings Jesus as the bread of life, something that immediately brings to mind some knowledge my father once passed onto me.

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Hope from the silence

This is my sermon for Easter Day on Sunday, 4th April 2021 for my curacy churches, both online and in-the-garden. A link to the digital service containing this sermon is at the bottom of the page.

Mary Magdalene sees the Empty Tomb of Jesus is a photograph by George Pedro

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Now don’t tell anyone about it.  Does that sound strange or familiar to you?

Up until this point in Christ’s story, Jesus had instructed people not to tell anyone of His miracles.  They had done the opposite.  Finally, at the empty tomb, people are told to tell of a miracle, Jesus resurrected, and they again do the opposite!  Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome fled and were silent.

This Easter we could be forgiven for remaining in the shock, silence and isolation of the pandemic.  We could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the pain of Good Friday.  We could be excused for remaining in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who and what we have lost.  But this year we need the realised hope of Easter, the hope that fills the silence, the hope of our resurrected life that Christ gave and gives us.  Hope.

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God is a DJ – an ‘alternative’ playlist for Lent

updated every day in Lent

I love music, particularly like finding songs that unintentionally steer me towards God, whether that be through a comforting or provoking title, lyric or tune. And in 2021 I decided to use my love of music to explore Lent as a musical and spiritual devotional exercise.

Each day through Lent to Holy Week and Easter Monday of 2021, I posted on Twitter a link to song on, and using the character limit available to explain why I’ve chosen that song and what its connection is to Lent for me.

I set myself a few ground rules to encourage me to explore and find God in the musical world around me: it has to be music that I have and listen to; to try and avoid including an artist/musician/band more than once; to try not to use Christian worship songs explicitly written about Jesus, Lent, Easter, and so on (it’s not that I don’t like or listen to them, I do!).

The playlist is listed below with links to the songs and with explanations for why I think they are relevant to Lent, but if you want to listen to the whole playlist you can click on the video below to start playing it, or access it on YouTube via this link.

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Christmas is a flavour

A night sky with many stars visible
Travelling home under starlit skies once Christmas Eve had turned into Day.

Christmas has a very specific flavour and texture for me, it is that which comes from a Raspberry and Almond Pavlova (the fruit mixed into whipped cream on top of a soft and chewy meringue flavoured by an essence of the nut).

I don’t know who made it first in my family but it came into my life through my Granny. When she was unable to make them for Christmas anymore the mantle was passed onto my Mother. When she could no longer make them I took up the honour.

Today I took one to my mother and brother, then stood outside and wished them a happy Christmas through an open window. She might be imprisoned by an illness but her true self and beauty still called out, as did the love of my brother’s care for her.

The Light of the World didn’t come from the sun in the skies above my head but from the room beyond the window I spoke through. Amidst the darkness of this year, I was glad of that.

Midnight Communion, bridging the gap between Eve & Day, amplified the darkness through the absence of those unable to be present to hear the choir sing of the Light born into it. This morning the choir amplified the light brought by the new day, by this new day, by the birthday of Emmanuel. God was, God is, God will be with us in both the dark & the light. Our darkness might continue but we are not alone within it, we are with a Light it can’t overcome.

There is much wrong with the world right now but I am grateful for the Light illuminating the blessings that would otherwise be missed. Today it helped me notice the blessing of a flavour, of a memory, of people & of finally finding my place & purpose in life.

Today I’m thankful for the Light.

Ordination in a Pandemic

The 2020 Deacons of Diocese of Bath and Wells with Bishop Trevor outside Wells Cathedral

Amidst the many things to grieve and lament during the pandemic there have been some blessings to celebrate. One of these blessings has been seeing many churches embracing technology to broadcast services. These have enabled those who could not be in a church to be there. Some have been interactive and allowed people to participate fully within the service, some have enabled people to add comments to the service as it happens and afterwards, and some have been presented to be watched and used for worship at a time that suits the watcher. I reflect on this often on my Twitter account, and intend to write a blog post on it in the future.

The pandemic caused the ordinations of Priests and Deacons at Petertide (June/July) to be cancelled. There were rescheduled for Michaelmas (September/October) once ways of conducting them safely had been found. In the meantime those who had been due to start their curacies as Deacons were licensed to start them as Lay Workers until the ordinations could take place.

Both the licensing and ordination services were broadcasted online. It is fitting that they be included on this blog, a blog that has shared the journey from initial wonderings about a calling to ordination to being ordained with the online community.

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