Sunday, 3 July 2011

Love and Death

This weekend, I went to two weddings and one funeral. A real mix of emotions and a chance to contemplate significant moments in the lives of several different people. The funeral came first, a farewell to Gerald Hegarty, a former fellow-staff member at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, and a wonderfully gentle, humble, wise, incisive and warm man. Two weddings came next, of Lincoln Harvey, one of my colleagues at St Mellitus, marrying Tereza, and my godson Barney Morgan, marrying Josie Cooley. Both of them full of genuine fun, solemnity and happiness.

It got me thinking about the extremes of joy and grief, happiness and sadness right next to each other. What struck me was the setting of all three events - in Christian worship. In all three we said the Lord's Prayer, offered thanksgiving, sung to God and each other, remembered the gospel promises.

The big moments of our lives - birth, love, death, need a kind of 'frame' to give them shape and structure. Christian faith was the frame for all three, and it struck me how well it did just that. Each event, a death, and two celebrations of love and commitment as a result became part of a wider and bigger story, part of a bigger picture. Gerald's death was no longer a sad event leaving a grief-filled space, his funeral a brave but hopeless celebration of a life now snuffed out. Instead, his life was re-stated as part of the building of God's kingdom, and his death merely a transition into the presence of Christ, waiting for the renewal of all things. This was a real parting, with tears and genuine sadness, but with the hope of reunion and resurrection life still to come. The two weddings likewise became part of the great story of God's love for his creation and for us. The love and commitment of these two couples were an echo of the theme that plays at the heart of all things - God's heart of love that beats at the centre of the universe. They were not just an excuse for a party and for getting hammered, a brief celebration that these two people had happened to find each other, but a window into the nature of reality - the love and commitment that God has for his church and his world, and for the entire creation. They were snatches of the same tune that sounds in the heart of God, the music of the past the present and the future.

Without that framing, that fitting of each event into a bigger story, each one would have been important, significant for the families, but containing meaning only in themselves. Being framed by Christian faith, they became full of bigger significance, full of hope, even the funeral. When a life, or even a marriage or a death is placed in the bigger story of God's purposes since the beginning of time, running through until its end, then they take on a meaning, a weight they could never have on their own. They become what they were always intended to be - intimations of eternity, signs of life and hope and truth.

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