Tuesday, July 02, 2019

On Funerals and Funeral Addresses

Ahhhh, my much-maligned blog... I've not posted anything here for ages...

So by way of seeking to remedy that, I enclose a funeral address from this week. I have done many funerals over 20 years of Diaconal ministry. They are all as much a unique privilege as the people we commend and commit to God are.

Some funerals live with you... of babies; suicides; circus or traveller funerals; of an elderly couple, the wife died and then days later the husband died of a broken heart; a Council contract funeral for a tenant in social housing who died with no traceable relatives.

Other funerals live with you because they are of people you have known and loved and worshipped alongside either in the church building or at home. They leave their mark on our hearts.

For me, a funeral should always hold that tension of acknowledging and naming grief whilst also offering Christian Hope. The address is always a key part of any funeral liturgy for me, as it is then that I have the chance to reflect the light of the Gospel on the life of the deceased. It is a chance to offer those of us present a different narrative. A narrative that needs to be sensitively offered - even in the face of real tragedy.

I presided at a funeral yesterday with my colleague. I wrote an address (now anonymised) based on 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a. I hope I got the balance right.

Image result for Stephen Fry what makes human
I heard Stephen Fry speaking in a slot on a radio show the other day about what it means to be human. For him, the essence of our humanity is our use of language; our ability to communicate meaningfully and deeply with each other.

St Paul would disagree with Stephen Fry on a whole range of issues, but chiefly I suspect he would disagree with him on the thing that makes us human. St Paul reminds us today that our humanity is not dependent on speech or spirituality, not on faith or philanthropy but on love - and our ability to give, receive and live it. 

For us all here today, love is life’s ultimate quest, and we search for it in all sorts of situations and circumstances. For people of faith, and especially those of us who call ourselves Christians, love isn’t just what defines us as human or the highest of all emotions, but the very nature of God. God doesn’t just love. God is love. Love revealed supremely, personally in the flesh and blood of Jesus.

St Paul tells that no matter what else we may or may not be able to do or achieve - it is love that defines us. Love is the reason we gather today. Each of you has been touched in love by J or in turn by the love she has brought up S, A and H to live out. The love of God in Jesus is eternally strong - calling each of us - as it did J - to better living and better loving. God’s love for us is such that not even when confronted with the deep darkness of tragedy and death - and love seems to be snuffed out like a candle - we discover that the light of love can never be fully extinguished. God’s love in Jesus is so strong that not even the grave could contain it, raising him from death, and offering each of us hope - shining like bright light in the midst of our present darkness.

St Paul reminds us, that through it all love never ends. Later in the passage we heard read, Paul speaks of his experience as though he and we were still missing something. He still has ultimate questions for which there are just no answers. He talks of, '... seeing as if in a mirror dimly...' and '...knowing only in part...' Perhaps that is because our lives and the direction they take are ultimately a mystery despite the plans we lay. As we gather to remember J today, we come seeking answers to ultimate questions: for which there are just no answers. Whilst your lives have been intertwined with J's with a host of memories and stories - you perhaps quite rightly feel cheated out of many many more - death, however abrupt or painful is the most puzzling aspect of living, and yet… even it cannot snatch away your memories and stories of J's or the love she has etched into your hearts.

St Paul speaks of love that never ends - love that is the essence of God.  For J, and for all who call themselves Christian - the love of God in Jesus opens up our lives and calls us to respond to it’s source. Thus faith is not a monlogue into a dark void - but an inviation into a relationship with the source of all love. Faith allows us to draw from that source, flowing freely, available to us all.

Love for J and her family is the reason we gather today. Today of all days, St Paul reminds us that all love points us back to it’s source in the love of God. God’s love for each of us is eternally strong and I pray that it would well up within each of us today and in the days to come, that through it we may daily find the resources we each need, not just for living but for living in and out love, as J did. Amen.


Anne said...

Great words of comfort and hope. I pray they will remain with J's family in the coming days.

Fr. Simon Cutmore said...

Thanks Anne

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