St Stephen’s Lewisham
29rd January 2009
Homily at the Funeral of Daniel Negus Myrie
If you look upwards from where you are sitting, you will see over the chancel, a large wooden carving of Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross on Good Friday, with two other people standing at the foot and looking up towards Him. They are, of course, His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and His best Friend, Saint John the Evangelist.
When a tragedy strikes, as it has struck Daniel Myrie, his family and his friends, Christians instinctively lift up their eyes towards Jesus on the Cross, and in so doing remind ourselves that, at the very heart of our faith, there is a man whose life was suddenly, and unjustly, cut short in His early thirties by the wrongdoing of His fellow-men.
As He hung there, Jesus spoke what we call the Seven Words from the Cross and, Christians who faced with personal grief not only look towards Jesus – the author an perfecter of our faith; they also listen to what He said. There’s not time this morning to consider all Seven Words, but here are three of them for us to think about.
Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. This, the First of the Words, reminds us that there was, at the very heart of Jesus’s ministry, His message of Reconciliation and Forgiveness of those who, have ‘sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ and therefore estranged both from Him and their fellow-men. Like St Stephen, also a victim of human sin, whose statue is over to your right, He prayed for His enemies as they put Him to a sudden and unjust death.
Jesus said to Our Lady, as she stood beneath the Cross, ‘Woman, there is your Son’ and to St John, ‘There is your Mother’. And at once John took responsibility for her wellbeing, taking her into his own home. This reminds us that it isn’t only Daniel, Stephen and Jesus who are victims, but anyone else affected by what has been done to them. That calls for our compassion to be expressed towards them, like that of St John to the Virgin Mary: not just words or feelings of compassion, but actions too. Each of us must ask himself, ‘What can I do in practice to lighten their burden?’
Jesus said ‘It is finished: Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit’. His final Word from the Cross was one of entrusting himself, soul and body, into the hands of His Father in Heaven, in the certainty that, by submitting to death on the Cross He was fulfilling His Father’s will, offering himself as the Perfect Sacrifice, and so making it possible a world which has become estranged from God to be reconciled to Him. So far from those three words ‘it is finished’ being a cry of despair they were the words of triumph such as might be uttered by a craftsman as he puts the final touch to some great work of art and stands back to survey what he has achieved.
Let Saint Paul have the final word. Writing to the church at Philippi he says of Jesus:
Though He was in the form of God… He emptied himself, and took the form of a servant, born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has raised Him on high and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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