Last night at 7:20pm Tony died after a long, long haul in his battle with bowel cancer. He had, only minutes before, been conscious and able to hug both daughters, Catherine and Charlotte. Frances, his mum and dad and siblings were all with him. At some point, in these last couple of days, he had woken from sleep and declared ‘It’s beautiful’ and said that everyone was waiting for him. We have no doubt of that.
A few weeks ago he was given days to live and ThirdSpace gathered around his bedside to pray the Celtic liturgy with him that we have so often said together. It was forever special to have shared those words together. When his move to Ashgate hospice gave him an extension of time, we planned to celebrate Pentecost with him. On the day he was too unwell, so apart from short individual visits, that evening of Celtic prayer was his last ThirdSpace communion.
This morning we gathered at the bandstand to express our thanks and sorrow and were overwhelmed and touched to be joined by Frances and Charlotte.
We began with a declaration of faith, using verses from Paul’s writings:
12-15Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.
16-20If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.
21-28There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! 1Corinthians 15 – The Message
1-5For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
6-8That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.
2 Corinthians 5
No eye has seen
No ear has heard
No mind has conceived
What God has prepared for those who love him
1Corinthians 2 – NIV
This was followed by an invitation for everyone to write things they remembered about Tony and gave thanks for. The following things were said:
- Tony always asking ‘What did you have for your tea?’
- School-boy humour! Parp!
- Driving too fast with my daughter!
- Giving kitty and Harry the names ‘Kittywick’ and ‘Harold’!
- Cheesy chips on the beach in Dorset
- Enjoying mince pies
- Doing doughnuts
- Practical jokes
- Meat lover!
- Making the ThirdSpace video
- Caring so much for his cancer blog friends
- Pointing out the rising sun on Christmas morning
- Group hugs
- Full English breakfast
- Advice and support
- For all the times he made me laugh – particularly when he called Harry ‘Harold’!
- Food enjoyed – including barbecues!
- Laughter and tears
- Laughter and strength
- Massive motor-biking
- For all the happy memories and those yet to come
- Helping and supporting Barbara last year
- On his motorbike in the park
- Calling me ‘Harold’!
- What have you had for your tea?
After that time, we turned to prayer:
Today we stand in the tension of sadness and of hope
We come to you Lord Jesus
We come to protest against all the horror of death and bereavement
We set our hope in you
We protest against the suffering Tony had to bear
We thank you that he is, at last, made new
We protest against the distress that Frances and Charlotte and Catherine and Tony’s parents, brothers and sisters have been going through for so long
We ask for your comfort, healing and hope
We affirm that we cannot and will not pretend that death is anything less than an affront to you, bringer of life
We stand firm in the hope that you promise to make all things new
We give you thanks that you brought Tony to us and to faith
We ask that his faith might lead others to you
We give you thanks for Tony and all he has meant to us
We look forward to being reunited with him in the renewed earth
Let us hold firmly to the hope we claim to have.
The One who promised is faithful.
We finished by sharing bread and wine:
Bread is a symbol of companionship for us. The companionship we share with one another. The companionship Jesus shares with us. We eat this bread to embrace that companionship and the hope of resurrection over death.
The bread of life
Wine is for sorrow and for joy, for suffering and for celebration, for forgiveness and new relationship
The wine of promise
We love you Tony and we’ll miss you terribly. Here’s to a future reunion with more than new wine in the renewed earth – but a veritable banquet – perhaps a barbecue?