The pain of loss: “Doesn’t praying help?”

Having to take leave of a loved one is very painful. When death is preceded by a long and serious illness, then grief is compounded by the gnawing and painful question: Why didn’t our prayers help? Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider responded to this question in the memorial service for Apostle Xavier Arèse.

About 430 members gathered for the memorial service in Montreuil, in Greater Paris on 14 April 2015 and paid their last respects to Apostle Arèse. He had passed away a week before at the age of only 54 years. Participating in the memorial service were the responsible District Apostle Bernd Koberstein as well as Apostles from France, Germany, and Switzerland.

A very personal tribute for a friend and companion

The Chief Apostle based the memorial service on Malachi 2: 5–6: “My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear Me; so he feared Me and was reverent before My name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity.”

The Chief Apostle’s tribute to his friend and companion was very personal. The Chief Apostle had ordained Xavier Arèse into the Apostle ministry in his first official service as Chief Apostle in France, his home country. Five distinct characteristics distinguished Xavier Arèse, the Chief Apostle said. What he was known for particularly was his enthusiasm, “The love of God lived in him.” Another distinguishing characteristic was his great respect for God. And on top of that he “was a truly honest and upright man who was absolutely loyal. He was someone who had a great deal of vision and foresight.” And finally, “He was a zealous worker.”

When prayers seem to be in vain

Only five months after his ordination into the Apostle ministry in September 2013, Xavier Arèse was diagnosed with a terminal illness. “This is such a hard test because we all prayed so fervently that God would intervene and help and heal our Apostle,” the Chief Apostle said in the memorial service. “For the longest time we had hope. But God did not answer our prayers. Dear brothers and sisters, like you, I was at a loss and confused and wondered, Doesn’t praying help?”

“I don’t have a conclusive answer to this question,” Chief Apostle Schneider said. “We cannot understand God, because He sees so much farther than we can. Our horizon is limited to the years that we are on this earth, while God considers eternity.”

Compassion from Jesus and strength from God

“Are prayers of any use then? – They are!” the Chief Apostle clearly stated. “What did we say in our prayers? We told God how much we love Xavier and how much it hurts us to see him suffer.” And such prayers are not in vain. Jesus has a sense of how much we suffer, the Chief Apostle said, because when He was on earth He knew the same kind of pain. “And God heard His prayers and sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him,” he said, referring to the situation in Gethsemane (Luke 22: 43).

“Our prayers were therefore not in vain!” Chief Apostle Schneider underlined. “God’s consolation is proportionate to the love and care we invest into our prayers.” God will comfort us through His word and peace, which He constantly lays into our hearts. God knows how to heal those things that we humans are not able to heal.”

A covenant of life and peace

“Finally, God concluded a covenant of peace,” the Chief Apostle said, referring to the Bible text, “My covenant was with him, one of life and peace.” God made a “new covenant with the deceased through Jesus Christ”, the Chief Apostle said. “He chose him to give him eternal life.” How does peace fit into the picture? “Xavier lived in the certainty that God loved him.” This covenant continues to be valid. “Xavier has now crossed over into another realm. But even there God will continue to prepare him for eternal life. And He will watch over him so that Xavier finds peace in the beyond.”

“This covenant of life and peace also applies to us,” Chief Apostle Schneider said in conclusion. “I am absolutely convinced that God will not only give us eternal life soon, but will give us His peace through His word, through Holy Communion, and through our brotherly fellowship already today and in the coming days, and by helping us in a very concrete way in everyday situations to show us small signs of His presence.”

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Andreas Rother
memorial service