Mark 13: 24-37
I am writing this reflection in a three-funeral week, two to ‘do’, one to go to - the funeral of a friend’s husband, bookmarked between two very different experiences of leading a service. The first a funeral of a lady who had not been in church since her marriage nearly 60 years ago but ‘was Baptist and needed a Baptist funeral’ and the third a Thanksgiving for the life of a stalwart of the little chapel I lead, life and soul of our congregation, long-time deeply committed Christian man.
The first was a brief essay in defying the darkness of despair in a Crematorium filled with an unfamiliar hostility; the death had been very sudden, an unmitigated shock. The centre one, a four-handed, many-candled appreciation of a dearly loved Anglican priest whose death after long illness had been well prepared for; faith and integrity shone out. The third, a celebration of a dearly loved husband, father, grandfather and friend, deep grief plaited with longing and joy, as his favourite hymn ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee’ is sung as our ‘last words’.
How does this relate to the Second Coming of the Son of Man in power at the last days…? In my heart this week seems to resonate with that particular reading, which I had hesitated over having to ‘blog’ about.
In the case of the first funeral, the elderly gentleman, suddenly bereaved, had to be virtually carried from the Crematorium, between his two daughters, themselves unsupported. There was no eye contact as they left that place. No response to words of peace. Who knows how God will work in that situation?
The middle funeral was a glorious Anglican remembrance of my friend’s husband’s stellar work and ministry in so many places, his great yet humble commitment to the Ministry of Healing, the sense of loss etched into my friend’s face, her own brave words speaking of their last years making new friendships in different contexts, where Christ’s love was shown in a new way, in that later-blossoming ministry.
My church member’s death was sudden and unexpected, a stroke which stole him away after he delivered a cup of tea to his beloved wife, first thing one morning. One taken, the other left, bereft, shocked, yet gently able to rejoice in the lifetime of shared years; gratitude that there was no long suffering; a strong and supportive family witnessing to their own grief, yet couched in Christian hope, of faith in the resurrection life to come; a lifetime of service in the little village chapel which will so miss him.
We do not know when the owner will come to claim his own…
Watch, and pray…Be on guard! Be alert!
In one case, a weight of grief crushing, unleavened by the raising agent of faith; In the second, a lifetime’s experience of trusting in the face of long adversity, offering courage and stability. In the third, in a chapel shiny with polish and glowing with flowers there is gentle trust, family attentiveness as grandchildren keep grandma company in these early days of the new aloneness.
In each case we have not known the day or the hour. In the middle case, preparation was made as the signs of the times were read with insight and love. ‘When you see these things happening, you will know that it is near…’ In the first and last cases, no warning at all, ‘you do not know when the owner of the house will come…’.
I haven’t got a work of art to offer, only a family photo of a sun red with glory, illuminating this beautiful world. Instead, I would commend while reading the scripture passage, listening to Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553) Parce mihi, Domine – Choir and Saxophone, on You-tube. The Latin words begin ‘Spare me, Lord, for my days are nothing…. Why should you set your heart upon us…you visit us at dawn and put us to the test at any moment.’
Listening to words I can’t understand (my latin not being up to much) carries me deeper into the mystery of Christ… we read, look, listen, in the Light of the Risen Christ, who came, who comes, who is to come. Advent begins. God bless us on our journey.
‘Lo He comes, with clouds descending…Hallelujah, everlasting God come down.’