My blogging days were short lived. Sometimes a break is needed. Sometimes I’m just to busy to blog. So after two years, I hope it has been worth the wait.
I had a funeral not so long ago of a wonderful, saintly church member.
His family had been in a service where I’d read a letter to a baby I’d baptised and thought this would be a good thing to happen for this particular person’s service. Bits of it are from stuff I’ve seen in various places, bits gleaned from listening to colleagues and greater preachers and Christians than I.
So here it is – I’ve changed names and places to give anonymity to the parties concerned – and I managed to get through the letter without tears, though a large deep breath was required to regain composure shortly afterwards…
Well, I didn’t really think I’d be stood here so soon eulogising about your life. It was only the other week I saw you in hospital. I’d popped into visit after a day at the Zoo with the family, who – incidentally if you remember – were orbiting the hospital in a continuous loop to keep the little ones asleep in the car whilst I nipped in to say hello. You looked so well that day – nearly falling off your bed retelling your hospital stories of the last few days. I can honestly say I didn’t expect a phone call telling me the bad news. We’d even planned your homecoming Joe, hadn’t we? It wasn’t to be like this.
But – as I’m stood here, it would appear that this is the way it has to be, though I would give anything and everything for you to come racing down the aisle, waving your arms in the air to get my attention whilst saying, in the loudest stage whisper heard outside of the West End, “have you got your mic turned on?!”
Anyway, Joe, I’m getting side-tracked… I’m supposed to be writing a eulogy about you to tell all those who have come to Church today in your memory that actually all is well and all is going to be well.
I bet they know loads of stuff about you anyway Joe, things you would much rather not be made public on this or any other occasion! I’ve heard a few of them already and I can assure you they are safe with me!
They’ll all know that you were born on XXXXXXXXX gosh that makes you 70 doesn’t it? I’d not have guessed. I would have always gone guessed lower! They’ll know you were born then and born in XXXXXXXX too where you spent much of your early life.
Now, in my line of work Joe, I get to do a lot of these talks at funerals and it always amazes me the different places where people met their other significant halves – tea dances at the Tower, at work, through a mutual interest. I can’t say that I ever known anyone meeting their significant other on a bus though, Joe! But that is precisely where you met Jane – you’re best mate – wasn’t it? On a coach trip, though thankfully not the ones televised by Channel Four. No, not for you two! You sat next to each other and when the coach arrived back in XXXXXX, Jane needed to powder her nose and being the Gentleman that you were, Joe, you escorted her back to your house to use the facilities on offer. You old romantic! But, as we all known, it worked and after a courtship of 7 years you and Jane tied the knot in the December of 1965.
I wonder if those gathered here today know you had two jobs. The first working Monday to Friday in your Dad’s factory and the other at weekends driving coaches. January 1965 saw you passing your bus test and the relief of a vocation away from the Sheet Metal Works.
It was in the factory that you were exposed to the fine black dust that was part and parcel of the metal works process in the days before the good and proper side of Health & Safety. We know now that it was this invasive black dust that led to the asbestosis that plagued you in later life.
Away from the factory, they may not be aware that you loved driving the buses and coaches – it was less money for you, but took you away from the factory. And, of course, it meant that you could simply be you, being friendly, telling jokes, making people laugh and enjoy life. You aimed for that 40 year mark working the buses, but it wasn’t to be was it? Ill health forced your retirement, 6 months off that elusive 40 year mark.
It was on June 1st 1991 when you moved up here – well, after a trip back to XXXXXX to pick up an errant cat – and you moved into your new home on XXXXX Road. It took a while for you to end up at Church here, but after a visit to XXXX for an evening service, finding it closed with a note pinned on it directing you here, you and Jane made your spiritual home here.
We know that you loved your time amongst us here at Church and I can safely say that we loved having you here amongst us too – I shall miss those walks down the aisle at the end of a service to have you gallop over and tell me that I just keep getting better and better… I’m hoping that I’m somewhere near ‘Archbishop’ level on some imaginary scale of preaching ability…
You were a wonderful friend to so many people Joe for you had this knack of being always able to put people at ease and enable them to see the good in everything around them. You encouraged, enabled and enjoyed seeing people achieve. You were a wonderful husband, friend and mate for Jane – a great Dad to your children, Grandparent to your grandchildren, Great-grandparent to your Great-grandchildren. A gent in every sense of the word, Joe, that – I think – is you down to a tee.
It is true though, what I wrote earlier, about all being well. We’ve heard it read for us in Scripture, that Jesus Himself has prepared a place for you and has taken you to be with Him and His Father in heaven. You know that promise was for you and you know too of the possibility that it is for everyone else because Jesus talked of there being many places, many mansions in Heaven. In other words, you and I know that Jesus was saying there is room for everyone in His Father’s house. And that’s good for us to hear now.
You know as well that in the reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus talks of peace to the disciples. Peace because he was describing to them his departure from them. That’s a helpful thing for us to think about too, Joe, as we contemplate your leaving us, because Jesus didn’t just promise peace, he promised that he would also return and take us to be with Him. And that, I think, is important for all of us who have gathered to celebrate your life to remember, for it is that Christ-peace, that expectation of His return to us, to restore us and renew us that gives us such hope.
T.S, Elliot, an author of some repute, once wrote that “In the end is my beginning” which seems to me to be a quite succinct understanding of the Christian faith. Some may conceive of this service as an ending, but you know and I know that it is merely a beginning – a beginning that brings with it a definitive promise of no more pain, suffering or death. A beginning with life in Heaven assured. Those of us who remain on this side of eternity would do well to remember that.
I will miss you Joe, as I am sure all those who have gathered to celebrate your life will do so too – but we will celebrate Joe, for this isn’t an ending at all.
Goodbye, my friend – I think the Spice Girls once wrote that line – it has been a privilege serving you as your Minister and having been blessed by your generous nature and wonderful sense of humour.