Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – Read by Murray Hannah-Jones
Romans 8:37-39 – Read by Samantha Bykersma
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Preaching of the Word
We are gathered here today to say good-bye to Jemima Pearson Campbell Hannah, and to commend her to God.
(In the rest of the service I’ve referred to Jemima by her given name, but for this part I have to call her ‘Granny’, so when I say that you’ll need to replace it with the name that you knew her by.)
When I was growing up, Granny always had a packet of Arnott’s Mint Slice biscuits and cans of Tab in the fridge for me and Samantha and Murray and Emma. Apparently with Teagan the tradition continued, but the Mint Slices were replaced by Jaffa Cakes and the Tab by Diet Coke. She told me that this was an investment; she’d provide us with biscuits and soft drink while we were children, and then when we had grown up and she had retired we could repay her by buying her cigarettes. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to face the particular ethical dilemma of whether or not to support her smoking, because she managed to give it up when Murray was in primary school.
I’m very glad that she overcame her addiction, but a little annoyed at the reason. Murray came home from school in tears one day because smoking killed people and so Granny was going to die. I’m sure that Samantha and I had made the same point when we were in primary school, but it wasn’t until her then-youngest grandchild, the only boy, the one with the golden curls, made it, that Granny gave up. Then again, she and Murray did have a special relationship. They watched The Golden Girls together; although Granny was a little disturbed when she realized that Murray understood all the jokes.
Even if Granny had kept up smoking, I don’t know that we would have repaid all those chocolate biscuits with cigarettes. Right until the end, when all of us were working and Granny was well and truly retired, the gifts flowed the other way. As Mum said, Granny showed her love practically.
Soon after I was accepted as a candidate for the ministry, Granny told me that if she died now it would be okay. She’d seen her children and grandchildren grow up. I was starting my theological training; Samantha was married and had her first child, so Granny had met her first great-grandchild; and Murray was in Japan having a wonderful time. She felt she could safely leave us. Then Teagan was born, and Granny changed her mind. She had to stay around to grandmother Teagan, and she did, and she and Teagan had a wonderful and very special relationship.
But Granny was getting older, and she was very tired, and it was time for her to go. I chose the reading from Ecclesiastes because there is a time to be born, and a time to die; and there is absolutely no doubt that this was Granny’s time to die. We can be sad for ourselves, but not for her. When I visited her on Friday the first thing she asked was for me to pray with her and ask God to take her. She was ready to go.
Granny had no doubt about where she was going. Her faith was stronger than mine; nothing in her very difficult life had separated her from the love of God. She knew whose she was and to whom she was going. And so I can say with absolute conviction what I say at every single funeral, knowing that this is what Granny believed and what she wanted me to say here today.
The first thing I say at every funeral is that death is not the end; that ultimately life is stronger than death. The church believes that in the resurrection of Jesus we have seen the ultimate triumph of life over death. We celebrate this every Easter, we remember it every time we gather, and we bear it in mind particularly on occasions like today. As we gather to say good-bye to someone we love, we do so in the sure and certain hope that this farewell is not the end.
And the second thing that I always say is that when we farewell someone we love, we give them into the hands of the God who has loved and cared for them all the days of their life. When I prayed with Granny on Friday I asked the God who loves her to take her gently into His hands, and God did. We know that the God who loves Granny will continue to care for her after death, as He did during her life.
So we are gathered here today to commend Granny to God, knowing that God will receive her with love. Amen.