“There is a time for everything,a season for every activity under heaven,” wrote Solomon in that first reading. “A time to be born and a time to die.” (Ecc 3:1)
We’re all here because of that. Because as an intended part of every and all the activity under heaven, the time came for Gwen Congram to be born and after ninety one years of what has been described to me as a rich and happy life full of the loving, laughing, dancing, planting and harvesting we heard about in the reading from Ecclesiastes, her time came to die—old and full of days, as the Bible says.
It comes for all of us. Just as the last song (I’ll Leave This World Loving You—by Wayne Kemp and Mack Vickery) we heard says, we’ll leave this world, one day. You who knew and loved Gwen, as the song also says, are left with good memories which can’t be taken away. She was yours for a time and you were her’s—husband, family members, friends. All good. Seventy years with Harold. He used to let her ride on the handle-bars of his bike, Rae and Gail told me. He charged her a nickel, mind you. They fell in love, I’m not sure it was as they danced like we heard in Anne Murray’s song, Could I Have This Dance, which Val sang so well, but they were certainly partners for the rest of Gwen’s life. Later on when they farmed—as they did everything—together, she was “energetic and strong, a hard worker” as we heard about the good wife in Proverbs 31:17—so much so that Harold called her “Joe, my hired hand.” Good memories. Good cooking, too, I’m told. In the words of the reading from Proverbs; a capable, trusted, energetic, strong, wise and kind woman who did good and helped those in need. A second mum. It sounds to me like Gwen left this world loving Harold and many others.
Which gives we who remain something to think about, of course. How are we doing with that? Given that our time to die will also come, will we be leaving this world a set of memories like Gwen's? One of kindness and loving all the people with whom we share life’s seasons and activities this side of heaven? Will they be loving us as we go? Or will they be relieved?
Our experience of people like Gwen and times like this provide us with an opportunity to pause amid all our activities under heaven and take stock. Do the people we love know it? We should make sure they do today. Tomorrow might be too late. And while we’re at it, is there anyone we need to forgive? Is there anyone of whom we need to ask forgiveness? These are important matters to address while we’re still this side of heaven. Are we going to leave this world loving, or not.
Another important matter to think about on days like this is death. The problem is, if we’re honest, most of the time we try to avoid thinking about death and no longer being this side of heaven. Occasions like this force us to pause and acknowledge the reality. It's a gift in a way. Celebrating the lives and our good memories of the people we love and respect like our sister Gwen Congram are God-given opportunities to think about and appreciate the deep and important things in life and death.
What about heaven, for example. Is there such a place? On holiday for ever. Where every seat has a window. Was Jesus speaking the truth when, as we heard at the beginning of this service, he spoke of resurrection and how even in death, anyone who believes in Him will live forever. Is there a river at which to gather, a garden in which to walk and talk with him? If he was. It changes everything. If it’s true, making sure we and the people we love are included in that promise would be the most important thing we could ever do.