Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The death of us

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” Psalm 116:15

People routinely assume that December is my ‘busy time of year.’ It isn’t. Yes, there are additional services; but there are also more mundane things that can take a break. Even those extra services place more demand on church wardens and choir members, who are called upon to enable them alongside other commitments, than on stipendiary clergy. We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs; but neither, on the whole, is it our busy time of year, compared to, say, our parishioners who work in retail. December brings a variation, rather than significant increase, to what I do.

Surprising from the outside, my diary is often fuller in January and February; not least due to the spike in funerals. As everyone dies, you might suppose deaths to be evenly spread, but they are not. The human spirit is remarkably strong, and many an elderly or terminally ill person finds the will to give their family one last Christmas. And then there is the toll of a hard, cold snap (and, similarly, a summer heat wave).

I have taken receipt of the funeral of an elderly gentleman who has no family. The only instruction he left behind was that at his funeral a particular hymn be sung. I called the nursing home where he died, in search of some sense of who he was. I hoped to find a convenient time to meet with someone there, but, instead, the phone was passed from person to person until someone felt qualified to tell me the most meagre of scraps of information.

I’m sure they aren’t bad people. It’s just the way we live these days. Passing our days in isolation. Resources stretched. Transactional duties done to the best of our ability, but with a nagging sense of embarrassment that there ought to be more to life than this.

We will give him a full and proper funeral, knowing that, even if no-one else remains who knew him, he was known to God, who bears witness to his life. And we will entrust him, and one another, to God’s justice and mercy. For whom we are is ultimately dependent on nothing else; and, moreover, in this is hope of being restored to renewed community, including those who have died before us.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

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