Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Funeral Sermon for Michael Whitaker

28th April 2022

We meet today to say farewell to our beloved brother in Christ, Michael Whitaker

Husband of Susan, Father of James and Claire and grandfather of Ben, Florence and Isabelle

By anyone’s standards, he has been blessed with a long and wonderful life –

He truly has

With a loving and devoted wife and family accompanied by great material success in business as we have heard described a moment ago

He has been truly blessed by God and, for that alone, we give thanks today

I was reading a book the other day called “No Dominion”

It was written by the former Coroner for West Yorkshire who was also a curate and assistant priest in this parish

In the book, James’ Turnbull’s quotes a former Dean of St Paul’s – A man called William Inge who observed that

“Everyman has two journeys to make through life.

The outer journey with its various incidents and milestone’s

And the secret inner journey of the soul”

The difficulty for the priest in writing his sermon is that, generally speaking, the outer journey is well recorded and obvious for all to see as we have heard,

Bautifully and humorously described, by Gordon Black a moment ago

But the “secret inner journey of the soul” is indeed secret and therefore hidden from view

Furthermore, even though a man or woman may be a churchgoer, the state of their soul is rarely bared to the public

Do any of us really bare our souls to anyone?

And even it is revealed at confession it is, thereafter, protected by the seal of the confessional

I have only been at Bolton Priory for just over three years – two of which were in isolation

Nevertheless, I was always stuck by Michael’s deep seated faith when I met him

And, in particular, that it was rooted in his Baptist/Anglican background – his parents having had a Baptist and Anglican marriage

For those of you who know little about Baptists, the clue is in the title

They are a distinct Church within Protestantism who believe that only adult professing Christians should be baptised

By chance, I had a debate on the subject of baptism with my son after the Easter Day Service – when we all renewed our baptismal vows

He was taking me to task for having him baptised as an infant and, in particular, that his vows had been made by someone else

He therefore questioned the validity of his baptism

Much to his chagrin, I told him that there was no doubting the validity of his baptism

But Michael made that profession for himself as an adult

And did so in order that he might receive Holy Communion at Bolton Priory

To me, this speaks of an independence of mind and integrity that was self-evident when talking to him about matters of faith

But the profession of baptismal vows is only the beginning of what William Inge called the “inner journey of the soul”

Like everyone else however, once baptised at whatever point in our lives, we then all come together as the Body of Christ

Thereafter journeying to God’s Kingdom together with Holy Communion as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come

And Michael was only too aware of this

I always look for signs of someone’s faith when I am presented with prior preparations for a funeral

And there was evidence a plenty in Michael’s case

First of all, the fact that someone has prepared for death at all shows a maturity in faith

They have recognised their mortality, and have made provision – as we all should do

As the funeral service states “Our days are like the grass…when the wind goeth over it, it is gone”

But very few of us are prepared to stare this fact fully in the face

But Michael was more than prepared to so – indeed he embraced it

But Michael’s hymn choices for his service were also very telling as well and speak to his earthly inner journey

Taking them in reverse order

“Guide me O Thou great Redeemer”, is the final hymn today,

It describes the experience of God’s people in their travels through the wilderness before their arrival in Canaan

It is an allegory for the journey of a Christian throughout their life

A life which requires the Redeemers guidance until finally we arrive at God’s Kingdom

Michael knew the direction of travel

The second hymn “Lord of All Hopefulness” which we are just about to sing, speaks of our Christian hope in our everyday life

Written by Jan Struther in 1931, the hymn asks for God to be with us through the day

From morning to evening

And shows Christ almost as a member of our own family

This is very much the Christian life that Michael himself modelled in his own family life

And finally, the first hymn speaks, primarily, of his Michael’s patriotism

“I vow to Thee my country” was written by Sir Cecil Spring Rice and was set to music by Gustav Holst

It is very well known and often sung at State occasions

But the hymn is not just about patriotism

The hymn describes how a Christian owes his loyalties, not just to his nation, but to God

Interestingly, this hymn was sung at the funeral of Winston Churchill from whom Michael chose a quote to end his order of service

The quote is worth emphasising as it continues to speak to the heart of this nation but also to Michael’s faith

As it says

“I felt as if I were waiting with destiny that all my past life has been but a preparation for this hour and this trial”

This was from a speech given by Churchill at the outbreak of war but has been used, allegorically, by Michael

For he is telling us all here now that his whole life has been about preparation for God’s Heavenly Kingdom

And that preparation comes to fruition today as we commend Michael to God’s loving care

And so on this final day of Michael’s earthly life

We give thanks for all the blessing that God bestowed upon him and the blessings he conferred on Susan and his family

But above all, we give thanks for a man of faith

A man of great strength of faith who, in turn, strengthened ours

And who prepared himself for his final journey on earth and set us all an example to do likewise