Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a funeral address


May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading earlier we heard the words: 'in my father's house are many dwelling places' … or as older translations have it, 'in my father's house are many mansions.' I've heard those words many times at funerals, as no doubt you all have. It is a popular reading on these sad occasions, which is not surprising, as these words of our Lord give us comfort, speaking as they do of the welcome that waits for those who follow Christ when we shed the cares of this life and enter into the eternal life that our Father created us to enjoy.

I can't say if it was a favourite passage of Jim's … but the idea behind it certainly gave him comfort … the fact that his life was coming to an end caused him no worries … and he told me that he looked forward to seeing his mother and father again … he had no complaints about his fate: no complaints that he was dying relatively young; no complaints that his strength and independence was slowly seeping away … every-time I went to see him and asked how he was doing, his invariable response was 'Okay' or 'Not too bad' – said in only the way that Jim could – even when it was clear that he was far indeed from being well. The closest thing I heard to a complaint in all the long weeks he was in our local hospital was to express frustration that he was lying in a bed doing nothing when he would rather have been out doing work on his farm …

Jim always loved farming … perhaps as the eldest son it was his fate, but if it was, it was a happy chance that it was because it was his passion in life … John was telling me how he, John, might sneak off to play hurling or get involved in other activities, often with their mother's help; but not Jim. For him it was farming, first, last, & always … and not just his own farm: Jim was a great man for helping others around him … he was truly the best of neighbours … and his knowledge of animal husbandry was legendary in the locality … I've lost track of the amount of people who've told me that he was as good as any vet … perhaps that was because he was so widely read … he may have left education after primary school, but he read so much on so many topics that he could talk about anything with knowledge and intelligence … unlike some people out there!

I won't pretend that Jim and I spoke a great deal about religion … he wasn't much for going to church, but he had no hostility to religion either … we prayed together on every visit, which he did gladly. During one visit, there was a television on nearby, airing a soap opera with a quite unlikely plot line, making either conversation or companionable silence impossible. So I suggested to Jim that we pray. He looked at me and said: 'That'd be more like it.' Any man who prefers praying to Fair City is a godly man in my book!

Now, perhaps I should back up a moment and say that there is a danger at funerals of turning the deceased into some kind of a plaster saint. I'm sure Jim had his faults … but whatever they were, I've never heard anyone speak of them; and when I was with Jim, I never heard him speak ill of anyone … the closest he came was when we were chatting once & I suggested that someone we both knew was a nice person … to which Jim said nothing. When I asked if he disagreed, he said nothing for a moment, & then said slowly 'they're all right.'

And indeed, Jim often asked after my own parents, whom he knew to be unwell … for a dying man to show genuine concern for the health of people he'd never met speaks volumes about their character … as does the fact, already mentioned, that he never complained about his lot through the long months of his illness … he bore his pain and suffering with a stoicism that was more than brave, it was inspiring …

This brings me to our other reading, from Revelation, where we are told of the reward that awaits faithful followers of Christ: the New Jerusalem, where God will wipe the tears from every eye, where Death will be no more; and where mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Jim's suffering in this life is over; and it was his hope that in the next he would attain the reward that Christ promises and go to be with him in his Father's house and be again with those he had loved in this life who had gone before him … it is our prayer this day that Jim has entered into that eternal life that he hoped for … and that, with God's Grace, we may also one day attain that reward … and join Jim and those whom we love in God's house of many mansions where pain and suffering is no more. Amen.

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