A reverent and touching International Workers Memorial Day service was held at Pilgrim Uniting Church on 28th April 2021. International Workers’ Memorial Day is supported by the Government of South Australia, Pilgrim Uniting Church, SA Council of Churches, SA Unions, Asbestos Victims Association, Asbestos Diseases Society of SA and Voice of Industrial Death, Worksafe SA. Everyone affected by a work-related death or significant trauma was welcomed to attend the service and were provided with the opportunity to contribute a personal item or photograph for the memorial display. The ecumenical commemorative service featured a candle-lighting ceremony as well as the symbolic release of doves.
Rev Liz Dyson presented the following reflection, based on Psalm 139.
“There is sometimes one moment in time, one image that speaks to and captures the imagination of many many people in many many places.
Some weeks ago as I’m sure you noticed, the world was witness to the funeral of Prince Philip. Whether you are a royal follower or not, there’s a strong chance that even if you didn’t stay up late to watch the event, you would have caught images of it on the news, in the paper or on social media.
There was one particular image that captured my imagination and has stayed in my mind, and I know the minds of many others from that event.
It was the image of the Queen of England, dressed all in black, wearing a black mask, head bowed, her hat hiding much of her face from the world, and sitting completely alone, at the funeral of her husband of over 70 years.
Such a profound image for so many reasons. A woman with many privileges yet suddenly not so different from us. Not immune from Covid restrictions. Not immune from sadness and loss. In the midst of grief.
Perhaps this image of grief was so profound for so many because there has been so much grief in our community and in our world in recent times.
We grieve our pre-pandemic world where we could feel safe, where livelihoods might not be threatened by shut downs and restrictions, and where we could travel to be with friends and family. A world where when significant events like funerals and marriages and birthday celebrations are organized we can plan to be there and then actually be there. We grieve for a world in which nurses and doctors and bus drivers and baggage handlers could go to work and not fear contracting a dangerous virus.
And in recent days too we marked Anzac Day – where we remember those who have lost their lives or their limbs or their mental health for the safety and freedom of others.
And then today, International Workers Memorial day we especially remember and share our grief for those who have died in or because of their work-place…
There is something sacred and significant and really helpful about being together at these important times. About grieving in community. About shared ritual and shared space and shared stories … and a shared hope and commitment for things to be different and safer in the future. It connects us. It somehow makes our grief shared. It helps us to carry the load together. And this is why we meet here today.
And yet I think too that what was so powerful about that image of the Queen was the reminder that however helpful it is to be together and share our grief with others, in the end it is also true that our grief is a very personal and individual thing.
There was only one person who knew Prince Philip like the Queen knew Prince Philip. If you are here today because someone you know and love died at work or because of work, you are the only person who knew that person in the way you did.
And we know too that grief is different for different people, and we grieve in different ways … there are the activist grievers who pour the energy of their grief into making the world a safer place for others. I’m sure we have some of those here today.
Then there are the still and quiet grievers who spend time and energy being present to the memory of the one they have lost.
There are those who throw themselves back into life in the hope that the sadness doesn’t swallow them up.
And there are many other ways of doing grief, perhaps as many ways as there are people who grieve.
Sometimes you may have noticed our different ways of grieving create tension – why aren’t they doing it like me? Why can’t they understand that I need to be quiet, or that I need to be busy or that I just can’t think about that right now.
Whatever your experience of grief our reading today is for you. It was written several thousands of years ago, but it is no less meaningful and relevant now than the day it was written down …
Psalm 139 tells us that whatever is happening for us there is One who knows… There is One who understands. “O Lord you have searched me and known me we read. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord you know it completely”.
This scripture tells us that however isolated our grief can make us feel, however long those sleepless nights of tears and pacing and sitting and lying down and pacing might be … we don’t suffer them unseen and alone.
This scripture reminds us that however baffled and confused our thoughts might be as we are reeling from our new reality, there is someone who can make sense of them.
When we find ourselves in the mustard aisle of the supermarket and inexplicably burst into tears. When that song comes on the radio and we are almost knocked over by a tsunami of sadness. When we just can’t get out of bed and we can’t exactly tell you why … there is One who notices and understands.
This is so for each one of us. And every person we love.
We can sometimes feel like we are falling endlessly inwards … but our inner world is known intimately by the God who created us and though we can get lost in there – God knows God’s way around.
And furthermore, this Psalm tells us that there is nowhere in the world, or the universe or on this side of life or on the other side where we or our loved ones can go where the God who created us and loves us is not already there.
You might be thinking … how close to this God do I really want to be – this God who has let me be in this place of great loss and sadness. Fair point.
You can feel free to be angry with God. God is big enough to hold your anger. God is big enough to walk with you in and through that anger and in time to enable you to grow around all that anger and grief.
Perhaps the words of the Psalmist resonate with some here today when they say “surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night” Scholars tell us that the word for cover here can also mean bruise, crush or overwhelm. Surely the darkness shall crush and overwhelm me … But even the darkness is not dark, not overwhelming for God. When the way forward for us is unclear, when it’s hard to see a glimmer of light, the night is as bright as the day for God. Which means that in our darkness we are seen Even if we can’t see where to put our feet
There is one who can see the way forward and whose hand leads us
Whose right hand holds us fast.
If you did watch the funeral of Prince Philip you will have noticed that much effort was made in honouring this man’s life. There were soldiers on parade and cannons being fired, a thousand moving parts and everything choreographed down to the last second and the finest detail to mark the weight of this loss.
And then, perhaps most powerful of all, all of them, everyone present, and potentially most of the nation, and actually millions of people around the world all fell silent… all completely stopped what they were doing …to honour the passing of Philip…
And isn’t that how it feels when our loved one dies – that the whole world should stop. That people shouldn’t just go about their ordinary business.
Because the world has stopped for us.
And God knows this and understands this and cares about this. From the moment we are conceived to the moment we are welcomed into the arms of God when we leave this life we are seen, we are loved, we are known.
It is the same whether we are the Queen of England. Or the ancient writer of this psalm. Whoever we are, construction worker, politician, health care professional, job seeker, union official, cleaner, lawyer, carer, farmer…
The hand that formed and knit us together in our mother’s womb is the hand that continues to lead us and hold us fast.
Whoever we are, whatever we do, may we know deeply the life giving comfort, inspiration and strength of God’s all-knowing understanding presence with us, today and always. Amen”.
(Rev Liz Dyson, Co-ordinating Chaplain, Ashford Hospital, 28th April 2021)