Church of England · Churches Together in Britain · Felixstowe · Sermon

Alfie – What’s It All About?

Alfie – What’s It All About?

Sermon for Sunday 29 April 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

St John the Baptist, Felixstowe

God give you peace my sisters and brothers.

Cilla Black, in the song from the eponymous movie about the womanising Alfie Elkins, speaks deeply into many of the questions raised by the death yesterday of the too-young Alfie Evans


What’s it all about, alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?

And if only fools are kind, alfie,
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?

As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.

I believe in love, alfie.
Without true love we just exist, alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day, alfie, alfie.

Looking back on how the tragic story of Alfie Evans has unfolded I wonder how many of those shouting loudly in the tabloid press, protesting outside Alder Hey hospital, spitting at nurses and threatening doctors, had chosen to ‘let their heart lead the way?’

It seems that, instead of turning to ‘an old golden rule’ a helpless child and his desperate parents were used as weapons to prosecute prejudices. How sad, how devastating for Alfie’s family, and how utterly inhuman! A personal sadness is that many of the protesters were faithful Christians who proclaim themselves to be ‘pro-life’.

skynews-alfie-evans-kate-james_4292075Alfie did not deserve to be treated in this way.

Alfie’s parents did not deserve to be other people’s pawns.

Groups such as ‘Christian Concern’ – who fund the Christian Legal Centre that brought a charge of murder against the Alder Hey doctors – should have kept quiet and tiptoed away.

How was it that good people, who genuinely believed they were helping, allowed themselves to come to a place were it seemed to be a ‘good idea’ to make a stand around the case of a beloved child who was dying from the day he was born?

For me, watching and wondering from afar, and seeing echoes of what had happened with the also too young Charlie Gard at Great Ormond Street, I wondered why people from President Trump to the Pope were so publicly involved with these babies on the edges of life?

I’m not questioning anyone’s right to make up their own mind about when life ends and when it begins, when life should be extended and when life support should be withdrawn, it’s the timing of the protests that concerns me.

Surely decisions around the edges of life must only be made between the family, the one who is approaching death, and their medical team? When we climb onto ethical bandwagons about the edges of life are we not being nothing other than voyeurs at the grief of others?

Grief is personal and unique.

It has no timescale to it and we all meet it in differing ways.

Yes, Elisabeth Kubler Ross has taught us that grief will involve some inevitabilities – denial, anger and guilt, depression, bargaining, and (if we are fortunate) acceptance – but they don’t come in a neat sequence or at regular intervals. And some come back again and again with a heartless frequency.

Some deaths are welcome and almost a relief, which can produce feelings of guilt. Others are unexpected and savage and we are left with an anger burning within us. All deaths are personal. This is one of the reasons why Sunday by Sunday we list the names of the Departed in our pewsheet and so help each other tend our grief proclaiming;

As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.

When grief gets personal it gets real.

C.S. Lewis wrote two books about grief.

The first is The Problem of Painin which the theologian puts forward a wonderful discourse as to how God can be good even though we live in a pain-filled world. In this book he provides some answers to the question, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’

The second was different. This was the writing of the widowed husband who was so trapped in grief that he first published the book under a ‘nom de plume’ for fear that fellow Christians would accuse him of apostasy. In A Grief Observedhe has this to say; 

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”  

Grief hurts like crazy and I have resigned myself to the fact that its wounds will only be truly healed when we enter the life after life.

So what do we do with those who are wounded around us?

How do we deal with the questions that surround the edges of life?

Alfie Evans’ death, and Charlie Gard before him, has become ‘A Grief Observed’ on a world stage.

All through this time of watching Alfie move closer to the life after life I have reminded friends and anyone who will listen, that we are standing on holy ground.

This is not a time for protest and marches – it is a time for silence and the taking off of our shoes.

This is not a time for point scoring and solicitors – it is a time for sympathy and hugging close our own loved ones.

This is not a time for TV interviews and politicking – it is a time for supporting and tiptoeing around those who are in the pain of grief.

When we forget that grief is personal we turn death into a commodity, divorce the grieving from those over whom they are weeping, and cause the crucified Christ to cry out once more ‘Father Forgive’.

So, What is it all about Alfie? Simply this.

When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you (and I) will find love any day

…and we must help each other do this every day until we find ourselves nestled in the nail-scarred hands of the Christ were our wounds will be healed and our grief finally ended.

© Andrew Dotchin 2018

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