Two Funerals, Fictional and Real: 5 October

A British Crash, if you haven’t read it yet, contains two sermons. (They are in a different type so you can easily skip them to carry on with the story.) The second sermon is an address at the funeral of a young woman who died in car crash. The text is ‘Rachel weeping for her children…’ This week I talked with a woman who has read A British Crash and didn’t like it. For her it has too many adjectives, too much needless description. But, she said, God had spoken to her through the book. How? Her name is Rachel. Her 13 year old daughter, a few years ago, was killed in a car accident. She had known the verse about Rachel weeping for her children. The fictional sermon pointed her to read on through the chapter to where it talks about God’s comfort too. Rachel told me she found the whole sermon very helpful.

Wow! How good to have been able to be of help to one person.

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On Friday I gave a real life funeral address for the mother of the best friend of my brother. Jo and her son Jon lived round the corner from where my brother and I grew up. With three years between my brother and me, we didn’t share any friends and I only knew Jo from a distance. Jon told me about her life, from a Yorkshire mining village, to suburban London where she was widowed shortly after Jon was born. Jon described Jo as lively, feisty, leading others in happy mischief, a lover of grand houses, ballet and opera. She was delighted to take part in a Carnival float as one of the nude models for the painter Toulouse Lautrec. Despite having secured flesh coloured body stockings, the float was deemed too risqué and never sailed the High Street. Jo was also a regular churchgoer for festivals, and the reading at her funeral was Psalm 23 from her own Bible.

On the way to the Crematorium, as, at mini roundabouts, every driver wanted to cut in between the hearse and the family car and no-one recognised this very special convoy, it occurred to me that being made to lie down in a field, even a nice green one, by still, placid, waters, was probably not Jo’s preferred paradise. Heaven as the new Jerusalem, walls gleaming like jasper and carnelian, the place of the great wedding feast, was more her glass of wine. The thought, the picture, felt like a gift from above and seemed to be well received.

Jo was a teacher. 10 years ago she received a letter.  ‘Have I found you? Are you the woman who became my favourite teacher over forty years ago? Oh! I do hope so… I have thought of you so many times over the years, always with admiration for your enlightened ways with children… You treated us with firmness and respect and just the right amount of fun… Not only did we have the very best teacher in the school we also had a teacher with style. You always dressed so beautifully – I could hardly wait to see the next new creation!… You also wore matching costume jewellery and that brings me to another delightful memory. You thrilled the girls by bringing into class jewellery you had tired of and shared these treasures amongst us. I still have a pair of your earrings!

‘Sometimes during my first year at the secondary school, I plucked up the courage to visit you at school, accompanied by a friend. I wanted to tell you how much I missed you, but felt shy and out of place… I assumed you had retired from teaching and I had lost the chance of ever writing to you… [A few weeks ago, talking to a family friend] I told her how I wished I knew where you lived so that I could write to you. I couldn’t believe it when she said she thought you lived in … Street. How could I have been so stupid not to look through the local telephone directory?

‘I now dare to hope that I have found you at last, so that I can say ‘thank you.’ I trust you are well and that you have found the happiness you so deserve over the years. You were, and always will be, a very special lady to me and I shall never forget you.’ 

Wow! What an honour!

Roger Harper


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