Sermon preached at Funeral Requiem of Vinvent Girling CR 21 February 2014
When somebody dies, it is always odd for us who remain. One minute they are here, the next minute they are not. No matter how often we experience it, it remains the same. We have lost four brothers from our Community over the last 18 months and each time we are left musing at the loss of someone we have shared our life with. When anyone joins a group, they change the group. This happens in a religious community – every new member who comes changes the group. It’s the same when a member leaves or dies. We are all changed now, by the absence of Vincent.
The Christian gospel is a message but it’s more than just a message – it leads on to an experience; experience of something real. Jesus says to us, don’t worry, death has been overcome. This experience is a knowledge that grows in you – as you walk in the Gospel way something changes in you. When someone close to us dies, that too is affected. We still feel queasy at the thought of death, we still grieve – but we know fundamentally that it is all right. Each in our fumbling way, we are tapping into the love at the centre of our mysterious universe.
Our brother Vincent, who his family know as Richard, knew all of that. He didn’t have an easy life but it was clear that he had tapped into that love. He was not a credulous person – he wasn’t at all a person to swallow other people’s propaganda – he could be outrageous in his questioning of things. Vincent was a cultured man, widely read, especially in the literature of England, France and other countries. Every year before my holiday I have gone to him for a suggestion of a good novel to take with me. He himself once wrote a novel - quite a feat of application in anybody. I’m sure it would have had its slightly risqué moments – Vincent’s conversation could spring an outrageous remark on you – it wasn’t premeditated – it just popped out naturally, as he said it with a wink. He had few inhibitions about the realities of life. Unfortunately, the novel failed to find a publisher.
Vincent struggled with illness for a large part of his life but there was a great equanimity in him. He was never one to complain, or to try and gain sympathy. In all our community commitments he was absolutely dependable. Right until near the very end he continued coming to the community services and chapter meetings. There was something very constant about him.
In his infirmity over the last two or three years it was a bit difficult to remember the Vincent who used to run daily round the cricket field, or cycled all the way to Wakefield and back. It became difficult, too, to remember that Vincent was be appreciated as a preacher, teacher and a counsellor but one thing he never ceased to be was companionable and good fun. When you helped him with his physical difficulties he would more often than not give you a radiant smile. There was an artlessness about him which couldn’t but make you smile, even when it was maddening. For instance, he might say he needed a wheelchair to get to a meeting or to the refectory and a brother would go to great lengths to get him in the wheelchair and wheel him there – then Vincent would remember he’d left something behind in his room and go back on foot to get it.
He was a private person and a he was character, a one-off: I’m sure I’m only giving a very superficial sketch of him. I can almost hear him saying of this sermon something he said about one of my books – that it was elevated vulgarisation. Vincent was one of God’s hidden people. He wasn’t one to hit the headlines but there was something attractive. Last year a German Roman Catholic priest stayed with us for a few days – this priest is a bit of a tearaway – a doer and a go-getter but he said to me on his departure that the brother who he had thought particularly wonderful was Vincent – I was struck by that, as Vincent had mostly sat in his wheelchair and said nothing.
Vincent’s brother John and his wife Nina were unfortunately unable to make the journey from France to be with us today because of their own frailty but they have given us some wine to enjoy at the lunch we shall share after this service. Our departed brother thought highly of such practices and would be delighted at the thought.
One of the things we do at a funeral is to ask God to put our imperfections in their place. Nobody is perfect and our brother Vincent was the same as the rest of us. As we remember someone who has died we ask God to lift their weight of regrets – what St Paul calls the weight of sin – and all the things that we regret, as God has promised even before we ask.
this service we give thanks for
Vincent all wrapped up in a bigger giving of thanks, which I shall be singing in
a minute. This service this morning we do every day in different forms and it is
the biggest thanksgiving that human beings can make – giving thanks with bread
and wine for the death that Jesus died. Through that death he set us free from
death. Because Christ has overcome death, we can remember our departed ones with
joy and hope
and pray for them on their journey.
George Guiver CR