Thursday, 27 December 2007

A funeral homily on Christmas Eve

by Kim Fabricius, Christmas Eve 2007

This is the homily Kim preached on Christmas Eve at the funeral of a young woman, not yet fifty, extremely talented but deeply troubled, who died of alcohol-related illnesses. The chief mourners were her father and brother; her uncle gave the personal tribute. The woman’s name has, of course, been changed.

I’ve got two children. They are both thirty next year. One is a lawyer – to her parent’s shame, I kid her (lawyer jokes!) – the other is trying to make it as a writer. Someone recently said to me, “You did a good job there.” Did we? I’ve always subscribed to Philip Larkin’s more cynical take on child rearing: that your mum and dad are as likely to fill you with their faults as their virtues.

I also believe that, generally, parents can take neither the credit nor the blame for how their children turn out. There is nature as well as nurture, and there are so many worldly contingencies beyond our control. Children from seemingly model homes hit the skids; kids raised in dire circumstances win Booker prizes. The talented self-destruct; the ordinary achieve the exceptional. Who can fathom the souls of others? Who knows the demons with which they wrestle? Who knows their own soul? Who escapes fantasy and self-deceit? And relationships – I ache for you, yet I am always getting in your way. We are mysteries to ourselves and to each other.

The fact is that only God sees the heart, and in spite of what he sees, accepts us just as we are. Julian of Norwich went so far as to say that God does not need to forgive us, because God cannot be offended, God just gives and gives – and waits patiently for his own wayward children to return home.

That is why in the end, at a funeral, when we commend the dead – as we commend Louise – into God’s keeping, we must not despair that, despite such promise and determination, such warmth and generosity – and while poignantly remembering times of fulfilment at work and joy with family and friends – that she finally lost the plot. In fact, Jesus said that it is precisely those who seem to have life all worked out who will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, while the fragile and the fraught, those whom, finally, the world breaks, because they must ultimately trust in God’s grace alone, they will find themselves part of a larger plot, a narrative that ultimately makes sense, the love story of God and his people, the divine comedy.

For what it’s worth, here is my vision of death and judgement. You find yourself sitting on God’s knee. He embraces you. And then he shows you what your life was really all about. A terrifying prospect, for sure – except for one thing: it is the Father’s lap, the Father’s arms, and the Father who looks at you with the same besotted love with which he looks at his only Son Jesus, who was born and lived and died and lives forever, for each and every one of us.

In his little book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom writes: “This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life. To have it explained. It is the peace you have been searching for.” It is the peace we must believe that Louise has now found.

A crematorium is hardly the place to be on Christmas Eve, but exactly the place to end with the words of the Calypso Carol:

        Trumpets sound, the angels sing,
        listen to what they say:
        that we will live forevermore
        because of Christmas Day.


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