St Stephen Lewisham
21st April 2010
Funeral of Gwen Grant
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, in His great mercy has given us a new birth as his children by raising Jesus Christ from the dead so that we have a sure hope.
These words, from the first letter of St Peter to the newly-baptized, were written two thousand years ago.
It’s been my privilege, over the past few years, to minister to Gwen Grant and her family, to prepare them for the experience of her death which was facing them: an experience which will confront each and every one of us sooner or later.
Towards the end of her life Gwen was in a ward called ‘Mulberry’ in Lewisham Hospital. It was on one of my visits to her and her family there that I remembered that the scientific word for a baby, at a certain stage of its development in its mother’s womb, is morula (or ‘mulberry’). It is called this because, for a very short time, that tiny group of cells, which one day will develop into a fully-grown human being, takes on the shape of a mulberry.
This thought helped to remind me that these two experiences, birth and death, have far more in common with each other, for us Christians than most of us realize.
For one thing, our birth and our death are both God-given events. He gives us our life at conception – He ‘covers us in our mother’s womb’ as the Psalm tells us – and He receives it back at our death. Through His Church God gives us the ministry we need to support us at both ends of our earthly life. In our Baptism we become His children; at our death He gives us those things in all their fullness which He has prepared for all who, through faith, have learnt to love Him: ‘such good things as pass man’s understanding’. So our birth and our death are equally times of intense development of the human person from the potential to the actual.
Secondly, like all such developments, birth and death are both periods of great dependence. We have seen this in the way that Gwen’s family cared for and supported her so faithfully over her later years – a care that was only matched by the care which she, as their mother, bestowed on them from the very of their lives. To this we must add all the care which doctors and nurses, friends and neighbours and her fellow Christians so generously provided her as she became less and less able to fend for herself.
But above all, and particularly at such a time as this, we should call to mind that ‘sure hope’ which God has given us when He raised His Son from death to life that first Easter morning. For it is on us ‘being in Him’ that Gwen’s hope (and yours and mine!) of partaking in His Resurrection solely depend.
As St Peter goes on to say, ‘even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials…[yet] when Jesus Christ is revealed your faith will have been tested… you will have praise and glory and honour… you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.