Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Funeral Sermon with Reference to 1 Cor 15 in The Book of Common Prayer: for Bill Carlyle

As I was pondering this wonderful, but complex, reading we just heard and thinking of Bill, a piece about two thirds of the way through the paragraph on the bottom half of p596 caught my eye: The first man was of the earth, earthy, and a little further down, As was the earthy, so also are they that are earthy. Bill was an earthy man. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, on the contrary. It’s just that Bill was a miner for many years. He made his living in the earth, literally. 
Working underground must put a man in touch with his mortality as he faces darkness and danger everyday. Until recently, Bill’s connection with the earth continued in a less perilous and pleasurable way in his garden. 
Darkness and danger on one hand, sunshine giving growth and green and tasty new life on the other. 
The fact is, and St Paul is reminding us in his letter to the church in ancient Corinth, we are all of the earth and earthy. We live in a world which is both dark and dangerous and garden-like in its beauty and fruitfulness. 
We experience the darkness and danger in sickness, violence, cruelty, broken relationships and death. The garden-like parts of our lives come in health, gentleness, kindness, loving relationships and life.
Our challenge is to navigate our way safely through this life which Julianna of Norwich, the fourteenth century Christian mystic, described as “marvelous mixture of well-being and woe.” 
My impression of Bill is that he did it pretty well. For example, after every service at which he and Kathleen were present, he would shake my hand and say, “That was a great service, eh?”—this, most often, after a contemporary service with guitars and contemporary worship songs when I know his preferred liturgy was The Book of Common Prayer and hymns with the organ. 
In encouraging me in that way, Bill was sharing a bit of the heavenly in him about which St Paul wrote. Look at the end of the paragraph near the bottom of p596 again: And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Speaking of the heavenly, I want to say a word about Kathleen here. Her grace and faithfulness with Bill over these past months is a real inspiration. One of the images that sticks in my mind from these last few months is of coming upon Kathleen and Bill, sitting side by side in silence and holding hands in his hospital room when I came to visit. Bill was blessed to have such a wife at his side. 
Bill Carlyle has finished with the dark, dangerous, earthy part of his life. He has put off the corruptible, the dishonourable, the weak, the natural. Next comes incorruption, glory, power and the full-on spiritual in the presence of the LORD himself. 
How did he manage that? He didn’t give in to the dark and dangerous side of the earthy. He became one of Christ’s own. In doing so he focussed on the good, green, life-giving garden part of the earthy which bears the image of the heavenly and which Jesus personifies. 
This is almost the end of Advent—the season when we remember that, as the great prophet, Isaiah, writes: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.(Isa 9.2)
That light is Jesus, the Christ, born into our land of the shadow of death, the Light of the World. We will celebrate that in a few days.
Jesus died on the cross to overcome the darkness in which we now walk, and to defeat sin and death once and for all.  
That’s not all. Look at the beginning of the reading at the bottom of page 594: NOW is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man (that’s earthy Adam) came death, by man (that’s heavenly Jesus) came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made to live. But every man in his own order: Christ the first- fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s, at his coming.
Bill is one of Christ’s. His earthy days are over. In Christ he shall be made to live. 
What about we who remain? Look at the top of page 597: Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, (as Jesus returns in power and great glory) and the dead (that will be Bill and all who die in Jesus) shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Then Jesus will reign and all darkness and danger, in sorrow, brokenness, sickness, violence, cruelty, and broken relationships will be defeated and put right. And finally, St Paul writes, a quarter of the way down page 596: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
And almost at the end of the passage, half way down page 597: thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
If we want to enjoy that victory over death and to be raised incorruptible with people like Bill, each of us, also, must be one of Christ’s own so that in Him we, too, shall be made to live—forever, a risen life, in all the heavenly glory and power about which St Paul writes. The ultimate Christmas present. There’s no other way.