It is often remarked that all accounts of history are incomplete, subjective and partial. As I stand there this afternoon on this sad yet oddly joyful occasion I can see more clearly than ever the truth of this observation. Because all of you gathered today know just how deeply our Mum touched the lives of those she knew. Mum did not achieve any great accomplishments during her life nor did she belong to the rich and famous. You will not find her name in the annals of 20th century history or read of her in any biography. Yet she possessed a broad and generous gift of friendship that encompassed an extraordinarily wide spectrum of people – from her school friends in the 1930s right through to those who were fortunate to meet her here at St Andrew’s in the past few years.
Over the past few days we have so received so many warm tributes about Mum’s friendship and hospitality and Christian faith, and we treasure every single one of them. Mum was born on 7th November 1928 in Warwick. Her father came from Liskeard so family holidays often involved an 8 hour trip down this way in the Austin 7 to visit relatives. As Mum grew up, her one act of teenage rebellion was to begin to attend the local parish church and this was the start of her journey into a full and deep Christian faith, about which I shall say more presently.
When Mum left school, her first job was in the civil service in Birmingham where she collated information about some of the very worst conditions in that city just after the war. During this time she began to study Russian at night school and so started a family tradition of learning the language that continues today.
After a few years Mum went to Shenstone College to train as a primary school teacher, and she worked for a short while in a village school. Around this time also she attended Lee Abbey in Devon for the first time, and if I tell you she has kept every single newsletter from 1956 to the present day you will begin to see just how much this Christian community meant to her.
Sadly Mum had to give up teaching to nurse her mother who was terminally ill. This was one of many difficult occasions Mum faced in her life yet as we heard in the tributes she bore them with great dignity and patience and acceptance.
Eight weeks after her mother’s death Mum’s life changed for ever when she met our father. Within a year they were married – on 6th June 1959 at St Mark’s, Leamington Spa. In the course of time three children were born… Mum was devoted to her family and we all learnt so much from her. Mum was delighted to see six grandchildren come into the world and they were the very apple of her eye.
Now there’s much, much more that could and should probably be said about Mum’s life. Her faithful, constant care of Dad during his long illness; her love of foreign travel and her insatiable desire to see new parts of the world; her constant battles to get to grips with the complexities of decimalisation. But if you really wanted to understand what Mum was like, the only real way to do it was to visit her at home. She would have already baked plates of cakes and biscuits in your honour, and she would eagerly welcome in with unfeigned delight in your arrival. Before you could ask her how she was, she would want to find out with an absolutely genuine interest how you were and what you were doing.
As you sat down, you would probably already have noticed Mum surrounded by piles of letters and newspaper cuttings and books. Mum’s favourite subject after all was people. Even though many friends were at a distance, she would frequently keep in touch with carefully crafted handwritten letters that were a joy to read. She also liked to learn about people she had never met, and it was rare a day went by without her reading the obituaries in the Telegraph or perusing another biography.
And when you finally got round to finding out what Mum had been doing, she would quite naturally mention how she had been to church or the midweek Bible study or the Mother’s Union meeting. Mum’s life revolved around the local church. Not that Mum was simply a churchgoer or someone interested in religion. Mum – although she didn’t talk it often – had a real and vital faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour. She had, in the words of our reading from 1 Peter a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and it was this hope that carried her through every storm of life. I remember once when I was going through a particularly uncertain time she said, “We have a firm anchor”. And I am sure that, even as we come to celebrate such a warm and wonderful life, Mum’s one desire would be that all of us here today know Jesus for ourselves as our hope, our rock, our anchor and our Saviour.
The last time we saw Mum she told us she had woken up at 3 o’clock in the morning but was disappointed to have missed the dawn chorus. I have no doubt that, after she fell asleep early the next morning, she woke to an even greater chorus – the chorus of heaven as Jesus welcomed her into His presence and said, well done, good and faithful servant.
For the person whose life we remember today was not only a mother, a grandmother – and a friend to so many – but someone loved and believed in Jesus and whose life, as the apostle Peter writes here, was filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. And although our parting is so hard, and we so keenly feel our loss, we can nevertheless rejoice that she has received the goal of her faith, the salvation of her soul. So let us today not only give thanks for Mum’s rich life, but give thanks to God for the gift of His son Jesus Christ and the hope available to those who like Mum believe and trust in Him.
Some words from our next reading, Eph 3:20-21:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.