This blog is dedicated to my late wife Andrea and our close friends Ian and Joan. the heart is a sermon gave a Joan’s funeral two years before she died.
When life is going well and with no one ill in the family, we forget that death is at the end of it, and perhaps just round the corner. And so we put death out of our minds.
Except at the death, or serious illness, of someone very close, we often feel far removed from death and consider the Christian teaching on death and resurrection, whether that of Jesus or ourselves, in an abstract, detached and theoretical way. We can discuss it in the same way as we might present the first three minutes of the existence of the universe after the Big Bang. We can consider the empty tomb, the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus and the teaching in I Corinthians 15, but it is more in our minds than our hearts.
Even at Easter, we as Christians often fail to see the full force of the resurrection of Jesus, both in itself and as the foretaste of ours. Our churches may even want to see it as a reason for a party and use machines to blow bubbles – yes, that happened at a parish church this Easter – and thus trivialise the almost unbelievable nature of the resurrection. Sadly I joke not. Easter is far more than blowing bubbles. Too often we simply re-iterate the biblical teachings of I Corinthians 15, Romans 6 vs 3-11, Philippians 2 vs5-11, I Peter 1vs3-9 and the resurrection accounts of the four Gospels. The teaching may be sound, but is often too theoretical. I am as guilty as anyone on this. It is easy to repeat this quote of Nigel Biggar but less easy to grasp it
“A metaphorical resurrection is really not of much help to beings whose death is no metaphor.”
However if the resurrection did not happen then we, as Christians, have fallen for a scam.
This year I could no longer consider death and resurrection in a detached way. Andrea, my wife of nearly 48 years, died after two traumatic weeks in hospital when no visiting was allowed, and due to her deafness communication by phone (or with nursing staff) was almost impossible. We were unable to see each other until shortly before she died when she was unconscious. I shall not dwell on this as it was the most painful period of my life which was made worse by problematic phone calls from Andrea during the previous week as well.
For her funeral, under lockdown limitations, we decided on the hymns Thine be the Glory and We rest on Thee (one of our wedding hymns) with Andrea being taken out of the church to You’ll never walk alone, which was more apt than one might think, as she was a Liverpool supporter, as well as a Jesus supporter. These were fantastically sung by the son of a very close friend, accompanied by her sister, my god-daughter. This made the coldness of a lockdown funeral very up-lifting.
For readings we chose Ps 23, Ps121 and John 14 vs 1-7 as she left no formal instructions. These were chosen as they are rightfully those which often come to the fore as they distil so much of the gospel into a few words.
Some time later, when sorting out things, I found the sermon my wife gave two years before she died at the funeral of our friend’s mother. It was tear-jerking to read it and uncanny as here she was preaching at a funeral expounding the same portions of scripture we chose for hers. I have spoken on Ps121, my favourite psalm,
I lift my eyes to the hills –
from whence will my help come?
Looking up unto Pen y Ghent, in the Yorkshire Dales which was the first mountain I climbed after Andrea died.
and John 14 vs 1 -7 many times, but here I will let Andrea speak just two years before she died.
As you see, she was a very neat writer.
Rather than say more I dedicate this to the memory of Joan, Andrea and Ian and to give hope to their families. At little note, Andrea’s first name on both her birth and baptism certificates was Joan, but being born on St Andrew’s Day, she changed it to Andrea.
I hope that it also brings home the resurrection to all who read this.
A photographic postscript.
Joan and Fred spent many holidays with their children at Hawkshead from where the fantastic mountain The Old Man of Coniston was often visible.
The Old Man was the first Lakeland mountain I climbed after losing Andrea, and these photos have a double reference.
Two Herdwick sheep looking towards Hawkshead from the Old Man of Coniston evoking both Ps 23 and Ps 121
This is the winding path from Weatherlam to Swirl How on the Old Man of Coniston with its sinuosity, obstacles and final steep climb reminding us of John 14 when Jesus said “I am the Way.”
There is always new life as these bog asphodel and butterwort show, struggling for life by the path on the descent of the Old Man. Wild flowers have helped me so much over the last few months.
Butterwort and sundew
New life literally flowers in harsh conditions as do these moorland bog plants of Butterwort, Sundew and Bog Asphodel found on the soggy lowers slopes of Helvellyn a few weeks later. Most walk past them. But as Jesus said “I am the life” to us even when we are totally bogged down.
“Not even Solomon in his glory was dressed like one of these.” Matthew 6 vs29
And the way – (a path through bog asphodel)
I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.
From Lead kindly light by John Henry Newman
Note that this gate has comforters, as the word is used in John 14. i.e. the diagonal pieces to strengthen the gate.