Tuesday, January 13, 2015

funeral address: Reg Scanlon, RIP

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

There is very little that I can say this afternoon. By the time I arrived in the parish Reg was already resident in Thomastown Hospital, deep in the grip of the Alzheimer's that affected his latter years. So while I can say that I met him, I can not claim that I in any way got to know him. In any case, it is doubtful that anything that I could have said about Reg would have been as touching or as intimate or as true to the spirit of whom Reg was as the few words his son Kevin spoke earlier on behalf of the family.

I was particularly struck by the choice of the poem 'Death is nothing at all' by Canon Henry Scott Holland as part of the family's tribute to Reg. The poem was originally part of a sermon preached by the Canon as King Edward the Seventh lay in state in 1910. The words were written to help comfort a grieving nation at the death of their sovereign; and they struck such a chord that they were removed from the text that surrounded them, reformatted into a poem, and continue to be repeated to this day, particularly on occasions such as this, at the time of the loss of a loved one, when those who loved that person most are seeking comfort and reassurance.

And I think there is much comfort to be found in what the poem says, in the words that death is nothing at all, that the person we love has only slipped into another room, that there is no reason why we should not continue to think of them, pray for them, speak of them, indeed speak to them; that there is no need for them to be out of mind just because they are out of sight; that the period of time for which we will not see them is only an interval, a temporary thing, that they are waiting for us very near, around the corner almost, and that they love us still just as we love them.

The thought that Canon Holland expressed in his sermon, while beautifully and strikingly expressed, was not, of course, particularly original. It has, for example, much in common with something that St Augustine of Hippo said in the 4th century. He wrote in a letter, also intended to comfort someone on the occasion of a bereavement, in this case a sister that of her brother, that the love that they had for each other is still there, much like gold when it is put away in some locker for safe-keeping, is still there and remains yours. And Canon Holland's sentiments are especially reminiscent of the words that we heard Jesus speak in one of our readings today: that in his Father's house are many mansions, and that he went to prepare a place for us there. In more modern versions of the Bible, those words are translated as: in my father's house are many rooms.

So the idea that the person we loved has slipped away into another room and is waiting for us there is not just some fanciful bit of wishful thinking to be trotted out when things get tough: it is something that Christ himself assured us of and promised to all who would take up their cross and follow him. Therefore, it is very much part of our Christian hope that that is where Reg is now: he has not gone; he is still Reg, even as we all here today continue to be who we are; that the love he had for all those he loved is still there, unchanged, and there is no need for us to love him any less or any differently now. Reg has merely stepped into the next room. He is meeting now with those who went before him: his parents and grand-parents and siblings; his friends, colleagues, and neighbours; and all the others of the great crowd of people he came to know over the course of the many careers of his long life. And he waits there now with them for those of us who remain in this room rather than in the next.

Mourning is natural; grief is something to be expected; but it is not something that need consume us, as long as we remember our sorrow is because the one we love is only out of sight, and that they are not gone. For – and I shall end here with some final words from Canon Holland - All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before, only better; infinitely happier; and forever we will all be one together with Christ. Amen

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