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From Our Bishops

Even at the grave we make our song

By Bishop Patrick Yu

We are in Easter, alleluia! Easter follows Good Friday as life comes out of death. I attended several remarkable funerals during Lent, and I was deeply moved by how well these particular funerals set forth the hope embodied in the Christian faith. Funerals are indeed great occasions on which people are more open to hear what God has to say. After one of the services, I was moved to write to two participants. I simply offer these, with their permission, as my reflection. I have changed the names of the people concerned.

Dear Mary,

I’d like to drop you a note to say how much I appreciated your words about Elizabeth on Saturday.  Calmly and clearly, you chose incidents from your friendship that spanned her whole personality. You recalled her playfulness as well as her seriousness. Most of all, your love and appreciation of Elizabeth were plain for all to hear. It could not be easy for you, or any of those who paid tribute. I must say that you exercised great self-control! Thank you for doing that.

Do you remember when we invited people to give their testimony at the Saturday healing services? We asked ordinary, shy folks to tell us about what God did in their lives, and we were amazed by their stories. I believe what you did was to offer Elizabeth’s testimony on her behalf, for one last time. You painted a picture of a person who embraced an integrated life, a life dedicated to love God and serve people. You offered several snapshots of Elizabeth: her love of eating good food; her tendency to tease you; her willingness to help others in the church and beyond; and her real faith, shown clearly in her struggle with cancer. Actually, you not only presented her life, but yours as well. And more than that, you presented a normal Christian life in fellowship.

It may not have occurred to you that your tribute was actually an act of evangelism. It presented a life touched by God. Moreover, it painted a picture of a community touched by God in its everyday life. In your very telling of the story, it showed to all present what it is like to be a Christian, day in, day out.  Not least, you showed all present how a Christian deals with the sorrow which death brings. Some would have already been familiar with it, others may have forgotten, and yet others would have heard it for the first time, or been faced with a different reality than what they thought the Christian life was.

We now move through Lent to Easter and we hold more dearly to the hope of Resurrection. Indeed, we live in its power daily. But missing a good friend must be hard, so be extra good to yourself.  Please give my regards to your family.

Yours truly, Patrick

Dear Father Robert,

This is a belated note to show my appreciation for how you conducted Elizabeth’s memorial service. We are both aware that the congregation consisted of people who were familiar with church in various degrees, let alone the Anglican Church.  It was amazing that you kept everyone engaged by using the hymn book and the BAS, rather then resorting to the current preference of printing everything out. I suspect you just ran out of time to make a detailed bulletin, with the number of funerals you have had. But it is good for the environment. In any case, you carried it off by conducting the liturgy clearly, with strategic announcements of pages, pausing to let people find them. I also appreciate your sensitive invitation to communion, which extended a welcome to everyone present and offered a suitable way for each person to participate. It was a model of principled hospitality.

The funeral was actually an act of evangelism. To be brought short before death, one of the “last things” in our daily rush of production and consumption, is itself a holy disturbance. To confront death in the context of a rite rich with the language of death and resurrection is to surround grief in the context of hope. The Eucharist provides just this framework. But so do the architecture, windows, vestments and the paschal candle. All these proclaim the Good News in a diffused way.

But your sermon brought the diffused into focus. I appreciated your deliberate couching of this particular funeral in the general Christian understanding of life and death, and the place of the church in the matrix of faith. You opened your sermon by summing up succinctly the reality of death and the messiness of the world, and set it side by side with the Christian hope: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” So often, funeral sermons descend to sentimentality or have too narrow a focus on the deceased or even the bereaved, without a strong connection to the bigger picture of salvation history or theology. As for the church, you said, I think deliberately, that Elizabeth’s two loves are what this church is about: praise and worship on Saturday, and outreach on Wednesdays. “Worship and service,” you said. “That is in great measure what a church is about, and Elizabeth modelled it.” Anyone who was intrigued enough by what went on in the funeral knew simply but clearly what we believe about death and what this church values and does. I wonder if any of them will show up at church or the outreach lunch.

I hope the train of funerals has stopped! We have no control over these things, but we can both be and tell the Good News in them. Thanks for doing that, and please remember to take some time off.

Yours truly, Patrick


“The celebrant welcomes the congregation and may … express thanksgiving for the gifts of the deceased person, especially for the marks of a Christian life. Such remarks, without denying the legitimate grief of the mourners, should relate the life and death of the Christian to the victory of Christ.”  BAS rubrics for the Funeral rite, p.  576.