Good grief: Good Friday

THIS very afternoon just two weeks ago I went round to pray for a local father figure, someone I respect and cared for very much, a real rock solid background support and blessing in my life these past 12 years. A humble, totally unassuming man of God in my local community.

As many of you reading this will know, Ivan Alcorn had been battling against cancer for some time, but we were still hoping, praying, fasting and believing sincerely for a miraculous intervention, knowing nothing less would suffice.

Just one week after that, though, one week ago from today, sadly and devastatingly for those closest to him, Ivan was laid to rest for the final time in Portstewart cemetery.

His loss will be felt by many, but none more so than his dear, mighty family.

Ivan didn’t go off without a bang though – quite literally – with the party poppers only the Alcorn family would complete a burial in Northern Ireland with.  A celebration of life, and passing on to heaven, not an alignment with death.

(That alone was an impacting statement and act which will live long with me, and perhaps all of us who were present.)

IvanAlcorn_April2017

If, like me, you were present for the memorial service later, last Friday afternoon, you will quite probably never go to another funeral or memorial service like it.

Gillian’s tastefully chosen songs were sung in a passionate praise service like nothing I’ve quite experienced at a funeral before, thanks to Ian Hannah and co, who were superb.

The four mighty men – sons – Ivan leaves as a legacy rose up to shine, speaking with passion, power and conviction of theirs and their mighty mother and father’s faith, conveying aptly the strong pillar Ivan Alcorn was.Ivan’s quiet, strong Celtic confidence in God has now evidently etched itself upon Gareth, Mark, David and Brian deeply, as they each uniquely and individually conveyed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end of their authentic orations to a compassionate crowd of hundreds who’d gathered in the Vineyard building in Coleraine to pay their last respects to their dear Dad.

What a family, and what a legend Ivan was. I have heard that sentiment echoed around the North Coast and beyond so many times this past week.  He was not perfect, of course, but Ivan Alcorn was indeed special.

TheAlcorns_7April2017

I am ongoingly impacted, and shall never forget last week and all the Alcorn’s love to others – to me included- amidst their own deep grief. (The final hours before Ivan passed away Brian, for example, still had the compassion and strength to stand up and pray for me, as I left them, rather than think of merely himself). Pretty incredible.

Today, as I think upon it all, amidst the fact this is Easter weekend, and Good Friday as I write, I am pondering afresh God’s mystery, goodness and grace, to offer up Jesus – his one and only Son – as a sacrifice for all of humanity.

His death and blood shed for you and me, and all of humanity, was and is the reason for Ivan’s now evident major influence and ultimate impact upon many in this community and beyond, in his passing. A Father has been lost in the land, but there are four more waiting to rise up and now take his very sadly vacated place. As the world continues to feel like it’s going slightly mad, one could argue many more such men are needed in this Fatherless generation. I challenge all the lads of this land reading this: ARISE.

Ivan’s steadfast enduring influence came about because of his rock solid, life-long strong faith in Jesus Christ as his very real Lord and personal Saviour, rooted in increasing understanding of God as a good, good Father, together with the power of, and relationship with, the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ death and willingness to endure the cross, scorn its shame and endure such opposition from sinful man is what gave Ivan, and you and I if we choose to accept it – all of us sinners – a chance at eternal life and right relationship with our Heavenly Father, not just waiting until heaven, but starting here and now on earth. Not as mere servants or slaves, but as sons, and daughters of the living God, adopted into his family. This is actually phenomenal if we start to truly grasp it.

Today, as I ponder afresh what can now seem like something I am so familiar with (Good Friday, and Easter in general) I ask myself afresh, why is it so good? (Death, after all, sucks, as I am freshly reminded this past week, so how on earth can and should we call this Friday Good?)

It’s good because of, quite simply, what God has done. Jesus’ stripes, death and crucifixion has provided us with the undeserved right to relationship with God, not to mention healing and hope. It’s something one has to grapple with and personalize. It’s not a theory or even a religion, it’s all about relationship and identity, taking hold of our adoption into God’s family, as children of the living God.

Jesus took all the suffering, pain and shame of this kind of horrific, humiliating death -though so undeserved – because of love for you and for me: I am again brought back to his – and Ivan’s – humility – and the power of it. I know I have a lot to learn. As a culture, in online activity alone, pride, envy and selfish posing is much more the unspoken essential order of the day.

I will leave it there for now.

The space in between burial and resurrection is a strange one, necessarily dark.

If you’re grieving today take heart:  Jesus’ understands your suffering and deep pain. Grieving is healthy: grieving is good. Let the tears come. On the original Good Friday I’m sure there were many, many tears from those who loved Jesus and mourned deeply. I’m not afraid to tell you I’ve shed plenty this week and last. But blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. My prayer is for much ongoing deep comfort for Gillian and her four mighty men in the weeks, months and even years to come.

Darkness and tears – though they may feel like it – are not forever, and soon, Sunday’s resurrection will come.

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Co. Antrim rural sunset, Northern Ireland. copyright.

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