Saturday, 4 May 2013

A Funeral in Elizabethan Language: "The Book of Common Prayer" and 1 Corinthians 15—for Micki Baisley


Micki Baisley. Using the old Prayer Book is thoroughly appropriate. She was a bit like the Prayer Book. Straight up. Saying it like it is. Old fashioned. A little inconvenient in this day and age. Not to be messed with or changed. Every Sunday morning, the same.

And there’s some language—which requires a bit of time and effort to appreciate, an acquired taste (remind you of anyone?), but when you make the effort, you find it’s worth it. Fine, rich, Elizabethan language, which has a rhythm of its own (as did our Micki, who marched very much to the beat of her own drum, did she not?) and yet it has a cadence which causes the words to roll off the tongue when you get used to it; the language of Shakespeare, life and death, tragedy and comedy, sorrow and joy—classic language, rich in imagery, both earthy and heavenly.

Micki could be down to earth. I remember a parish annual meeting right here in the church when there was a suggestion that we move the choir pews. I heard Micki’s voice from the pews, “Ridiculous!” she said. And, in later years, if she didn’t want to be visited, she said so. And that was that.

On the other hand, I got to see her face when she received communion, always at the 830 Book of Common Prayer service, as I put what the Prayer calls “the holy Bread of eternal life” (p83) into her hand, there was always such a softness and devotion in her face, I knew she was experiencing a glimpse of heaven.

Worship in the language of the Prayer Book was the context for Micki’s heavenly experience then. This morning as we honour both her memory and The One who made and loves her, it is also the context of our worship now; and rightly so.

So let’s look at the reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in Shakespearean language. What does it teach us about life and death, and Jesus, The One with whom Micki met here Sunday by Sunday?

First, about life—in the eternal—look at the first words at the bottom page 595: “Now is Christ risen from the dead.” Out of what was first experienced as tragedy and sorrow, came blessing and joy. Miraculously. Supernaturally. Jesus, the man, became the Risen LORD, The One who met Micki here each Sunday and meets us here today.

The Risen LORD Jesus Christ is the only one who can change the stuff of Shakespeare’s tragedies in our lives (page 596): death itself, corruption, dishonour, and weakness; into eternal life—incorruptible, glorious and powerful. Jesus is the only one able to change our natural bodies into glorified, spiritual ones; our earthiness into his heavenliness.

It’s a mystery, of course, and that’s what makes it so intriguing. Look at the top of page 596: “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, and the dead (including Micki) shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

And here’s where what Satan intended to be the ultimate human tragedy, dark death, will be turned, in the twinkling of an eye, to the greatest blessing there ever was and “Now is Christ risen from the dead” is the very centre of it.

Here’s where a little comedy comes in, as we thumb our noses at death saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” That’s like saying “Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah, death!” in Shakespearean, Prayer Book language. I can hear Micki saying something like that.

I can also hear her saying, with her usual force and directness, “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And to you and me, “Therefore, my beloved brethren and sisteren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

If we know what's good for us, we’d better get on with it.

One more thing before we do: if you need to know more about what's really and eternally good for you, follow Micki's example and get thee to church where the Risen LORD Jesus is to be found.