Stop The Clocks
The 90’s movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, is a brilliant romantic comedy, but my favorite part is not any of the jokes or the weddings, but the funeral. The friends gather to mourn the death of Gareth, a man of enthusiasm and unbridled joy. His partner, Matthew, full of dignified love and sorrow, recites the poem “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden. It begins:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
The poem names this truth that when someone dies, the world stops. At least it does for the people who grieve. Their world moved in a particular way, because of the life and actions and love of a particular person. Now that world is different, like someone moved the furniture around in the living room while they slept, and each step is a stubbed toe as they learn to navigate the world in a new way.
“Stop all the clocks,” Auden writes, “. . . let the mourners come.” Our rituals of grief and mourning are the ways that we mark this shift in our world, name the realities of our loss, and pay attention to the ways our world is different. We set aside time to pray, to share stories, to sit in quiet and cry, stopping the clocks to remember and mourn.
It’s harder these days, though. We don’t have the same opportunities to accompany one another in grief. For good reasons of mutual care, we sing and pray together. We don’t eat ham sandwiches and cheesy potatoes while we laugh and cry together. So we do the next best thing. We log into funerals by watching them on YouTube. We write letters that share our favorite stories with the bereaved. We make phone calls and have Zoom memorials.
These moments matter and bring us such healing, but sometimes they feel like not quite enough. Partly because they don’t often give us space. It’s sort of funny, isn’t it? To turn off the screen or hang up the phone and then go right back to the regular routine? So it is my encouragement that all of us, in our varied varieties of sadness and grief these days, stop the clocks a little to remember.
Just sit and be still. Name the ways that God has blessed you through the people you love who have died. Feel the sadness that is the receipt you carry from having loved, or breath a sigh of relief that their suffering is now over. Go for a walk, or bake a cake, or whittle some wood, or read a poem, and just make space. In whatever way makes sense, stop the clocks, and let the mourning come. The only way to the other side, after all, is through.
And in that stopping, rest in the truth that gives us hope and comfort. God is our help in ages past and for years to come. Because of Jesus, death is not the end, for our loved ones or for us. Even as we weep, we can take comfort in the promise that nothing, neither death nor life, neither disease nor despair, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So stop your clocks, but know that God’s love for you, will not, cannot, stop.