I’d like to thank Leanne, Rachel, Sarah and Tess for asking me to speak at Bill’s funeral.
We are gathered here today to give thanks for the life of William Alan Beagley and to commend him to God.
Funerals are celebrations of life; we thank God and offer comfort to each other by sharing our memories of Bill. But as Bill himself said at funerals, while this service is one of celebration and thanksgiving it is also okay to be sad! Today is a day of mourning, as well as of celebration. We are acknowledging the end of Bill’s life, the end of his living presence among those who love him. We are gathered here to grieve, as well as to give thanks, and the sorrow we feel is a measure of our love for Bill.
It is also okay to be angry. Bill was only sixty-three when he died. In God’s perfect world, as described by the prophet Isaiah, ‘No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth.’ I’m sure that if this world were as God intended it to be Bill would have grown old with Leanne, and would have enjoyed grand-fathering the children that Rachel, Sarah and Tess might have in the years to come. We do not live in that perfect world, and so people die too soon, and that is something to lament. I believe that as we grieve Bill’s too-early death today, God grieves with us.
Bill’s life ended too soon, but there is still a lot to celebrate. Bill’s sixty-three years were rich and abundant and full of love. I am completely convinced that God gave Bill and me to each other as ecumenical colleagues. I am certain that we were gifts of God to each other as we supported, encouraged and learned from each other. We also had a lot of fun together. Because I saw so much of Bill as priest I know that in his priesthood Bill was living out God’s intention for him. Bill approached his vocation ‘with a true heart in full assurance of faith.’ Bill knew that God calls us to service as we are. God does not call particularly holy and pious people; instead we are made holy by the faithfulness of God. Bill lived his life with integrity, as the person God had created him to be, relying on God’s grace. That is a lesson that we can all learn from Bill’s life; we do not need to pretend to be better than we are, or try to earn our place in God’s love. We just need to be who we are, the people God created us to be, and God will rejoice in us.
Later in this service we will sing Bill’s favourite hymn, which is also my favourite hymn, ‘Be thou my vision’. For both of us one of the attractions of this hymn is the line ‘Be thou my armour, my sword for the fight’. Bill was openly pleased to have been the only person to break my ban on weapons at the Science Fiction and Fantasy service, when he sneakily wore a sword to the first one held in Williamstown. Last year’s service was held here at Holy Trinity where Bill could set his own rules about costumes, and so he proudly wore a sgian-dubh with his kilt. But of course we don’t just love this hymn for its mention of swords. It also describes the hope that the church offers at every funeral, the hope that ‘after victory won’ we may ‘reach Heaven’s joys’. The Book of Revelation promises that one day ‘Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ Both the hymn and the Book of Revelation assure us that death is not the end; one day death itself will end. The church believes that in the resurrection of Jesus we have seen the decisive triumph over death and that just as Christ was raised from the dead so all of us will ultimately be made alive in Christ. 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.
If you look at the front of your Order of Service you’ll see that Leanne chose three lines from W. H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ to describe her love for Bill. But she didn’t quote the fourth line of that stanza, ‘I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong,’ because at the heart of the Christian faith is the certainty that love can last forever. The Apostle Paul wrote of love that ‘Love never ends … now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love’. Our love can last because human love is inspired by and held within the overwhelming, immeasurable, love of God. It is into that love, the love of the God who is love, that we commend Bill. As we say good-bye to Bill today, we are giving him into the hands of the God who has loved and cared for him all the days of his life, and who continues to love and care for him in death.
We are gathered here to commend Bill to God, certain that God will receive him with love. Amen.