Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Sermon at the funeral of Timothy Smeeth

It is a great privilege to preach today at Timothy’s funeral

I have only been at Bolton Priory for a short amount of time and, as with so many of my parishioners, and beyond, I still don’t know anyone very well

And of course, I did not know Timothy at all – which makes preaching, potentially, quite problematic

However, I do feel I know the Smeeth family a little better than most, and by a rather an unusual route

Although I have had chance to speak to Amelia and Patrick – which has been a great pleasure

Quite by chance, the Smeeth grave at Bolton Priory is the probably the grave that I know better than any other

And it’s through the grave, to a degree, I know the family

Just after I arrived at Bolton Priory, I received a letter from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission

As a former Army Officer myself, I was delighted to receive such a letter which advised me that there was a war grave at Bolton Priory

I had no idea we had a war grave – but made inquiry of the parish historian who very soon was sending me details of William Smeeth

As you know, he was killed on active service in 1917

I was fascinated by his service in the Royal Irish Rangers and then an attachment to the Royal Air Force – which led to his untimely death

But the letter also brought with it a very smart sign for our grave yard and the chance to show innumerable tourists to our now most famous grave

It is a peculiar way to get to know a family – but unique and rather special

Of course, a family grave tells the story of a family over the last century and Timothy will add to their number

His parents, Eric and Beatrice who finally died in 1994

Thomas and Mary whose son William was killed in 1917

And Anne and Emma – Timothy’s wife and daughter – who left Timothy for the best part of this millennium bereft

Except for Amelia and Ingrid who took such good care of him in final years

The family grave records many lives over many years

All very different

With their triumphs and tragedies like every other family in this world

It is hard to corral so many lives

However, whatever our different lives, the Christian story is the bedrock for us all – and the reason we remind ourselves continually of the Christian story

It is the prism through which we see all our earthly lives in the fullness of time

And the Christian story speaks to us today

First and foremost, we are still in the season of Lent

A season when we remember our Lord in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights

Although we mark this season liturgically, we all travel through Lent, at some point, in our lives

This period of desolation and darkness is common to us all

Many of us will recognise it in our own lives already and, if you don’t, it is to come

The parents of William will have passed through Lent when he was lost to them in 1917

Timothy too with the loss of his wife and daughter at the beginning of this millennium and I am sure there is so much more

This season of Lent however, is paradoxically led by the Holy Spirit

It is a penitential season which starts by being reminded of our mortality on Ash Wednesday

Something we should all be reminded of today

But the repentance and forgiveness which should accompany the recognition of our human frailty

Is indeed, the state of mind required to continue our lives today and fulfilling God’s purpose for us here on earth

But as well as being the season of Lent, today we stand on the eve of Holy Week

A week which begins with Palm Sunday

Which we celebrate on Sunday

A day when we remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem feted by the crowds

Timothy too makes his triumphal entry today into God’s heavenly kingdom

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said about Palm Sunday

As we stand at the gates of the city today…

Jesus does not steer us away…and send us back into the holy silence of the desert…he keeps us close…and tells us that these are also the gates of heaven.

We stand not just at the gates of the city… where the Lord was crucified…but also at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.

Which brings us all to the heart of our faith which is our Lords glorious Resurrection on Easter Day

Although we journey through the darkness of Lent

Although we enter Jerusalem – triumphant at first,

We know that, ultimately, death will befall us

But majesty of Christianity, of standing on this side of history, is that we know that death is conquered by our Lord Jesus Christ

The despair of Good Friday gives way to the joy of Easter Day

We are able to proclaim, as we do today, that death has been conquered

And that we all live in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

And so today, when we meet to say our goodbyes to Timothy

We naturally do so with sorrow in our hearts

But also with joy at the same time – certain in our faith

Timothy will be laid to rest in the family grave at Bolton Priory on Monday, in the family grave which bears witness to so many of the family lives

But all those lives are now remembered together underneath the great East window of Bolton Priory

Which, despite the ravages of time and all that has befallen it, speaks of the Resurrection of our Lord in the fullness of time

We say good bye today – but also await that time when we will be “together again” in God’s heavenly kingdom