The following is an edited version of the sermon preached at Holy Trinity Greymouth by Archdeacon Robin Kingston on Saturday evening, November 27. He was preaching in a time of limbo – all hope for the survival of the 29 Pike River miners had been lost, and the national remembrance service to be held in their honour takes place on December 2.
I find myself at the edge of tears, a lot of the time. They come and they go. There are times when I can laugh, there are times when I can bounce around, there are times when I can work really hard.
And then suddenly, the tears come.
And I’m so grateful that they do – because if they didn’t, I wouldn’t know how to grieve.
At the Remembrance service on Thursday there will be a couple of symbols that we can use. One will be small stones, another will be ferns, and we can make those symbols say what suits us.
At our vigil here at Holy Trinity the other night we placed stones at the foot of the cross.
That was a sign of us taking the burdens that we carried, and the heaviness that we held, and saying: ‘We are placing that at the foot of the cross.’
For me, when I put stones on some of the 29 tables at the racecourse… that will be reminding me that in my grief, I’m not going to carry a hard heart. I want to remain soft.
The prophets talked about hard hearts, and soft hearts.
They said the difference comes when you have the Spirit of God within you.
The Spirit of God changes your heart from hard to soft.
The verses in the Bible weren’t there at the beginning.
They were put in centuries later. The church leaders of the time said: ‘We’ve got to be able to find our way around this Bible more easily.
‘Let’s label it. Let’s have some chapters and verses, so we can find out where we are.’
And when they came to this part about Jesus weeping – it so touched their hearts that they said: ‘This is the most precious word that we see in scripture. Let’s make that a single verse.’
In English, ‘Jesus wept’ is two words. But in the Greek, it’s just one word. A single word.
And I’m thinking – that actually is the core of the Christian faith.
Jesus is right in the midst of every pain that we go through. He’s there.
When you say to God – where were you in the midst of this tragedy?
He would say: ‘I was where I was when my son Jesus died on the cross.
‘I was there with him. I wept with him. I cried with him. And I felt his pain.
‘But I would not protect him from it.
‘I will not stop the free world.’
I was up there at the mine today with the families of the miners. Telling them about the service and how it was going to work, what their part in it was going to be. Someone said to me: what if it rains?
Well, you know what we do if it rains on the Coast. We carry on regardless.
At the Strongman mine service, where they had a mass burial of about 14 of the miners in one grave, it was pouring rain. People got drenched.
But even if it pours on Thursday, we’ll be there.
We’ll get wet, and we’ll cry our hearts out.
My prayer, though, is that it will be fine.
My prayer is that the country will see the Coast in its true light.
Not only in the weather, not only in the beauty of the mountains around the racecourse – but they will see it in the beauty of the people.
And the way they grieve, and they way they’re involved with one another.
If they see that, I believe that you will find a real comfort in that service – the real comfort of the incredible bonding together of this community.
I have absolutely no doubt about existence and the love of God in the midst of this tragedy.
He did not cause the tragedy. He did not make it happen.
He allowed people to mine with as much knowledge as they had, and the risks they took, they knew about – but they didn’t understand all the risks. And we still don’t.
But that’s part of mining. It’s happened before, and will probably happen again.
Mines, in the end, are unpredictable.
Life is unpredictable.
I’ve used the fern in the past a symbol, too.
Ferns remind me that life continues. They’re green, life continues. I’m going to live through this, and carry on.
I’m going to live normally again. The green reminds me that there’s hope.
The other thing that cut fern fronds remind me… is that in two to three days, they will turn brown.
And so I’m reminded: I will not be able to survive the grief of this tragedy, if I rely only on my faith of the past.
I need that faith to be renewed day by day, so that it remains fresh and green.
Some of you were with us when we went through the Cave Creek memorial service at the Regent Theatre 15 years ago.
When I was at that service, I took a branch of a punga, and said: ‘if we work through our grief, we will have a new life together.’
And when we came to the end of that service, many people just sat transfixed. It was half an hour before the last ones left the service.
After all the pain they’d been through, they just were appreciating the peace. The Spirit of God that descended on that place…
I pray that the Spirit of God will so touch you at the service on Thursday…
that you will cry, and you may laugh, and you’ll feel connected together in this community, which is supported by a grieving nation here, and by a grieving Australia, as well as by people grieving in England, South Africa and other places…
I pray that your faith will stand firm and strong.
In our grief, it’s so easy to get bound and tight and tense. We’re not sure how much we want to let other people in on our grief.
And grief that remains holding tight, and clenched, remains unresolved grief.
I pray that your grief will not remain clenched.
I pray that you will do the things that hurt – like coming to services, like talking about it, like feeling the pain, doing symbolic acts like taking the ferns and the stones, and putting them at the foot of the cross here at church, or on the tables at racecourse, and feeling the sadness – that is the way we work through grief.
And I pray that this community will work through its grief – and not camouflage it by excess alcohol, or drugs … or if they don’t use those drugs, to pretend they can ignore the grief: ‘I’m strong’, they kid themselves. ‘I’m mighty. I don’t have to grieve in any way.’
May we have the courage to grieve.