Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Stephen Murgatroyd

9 April 2020

Revd Nicholas Mercer

We meet together today to say goodbye to Stephen

We meet in the midst of the most extraordinary and severe public health crisis of our lives

It means that our goodbyes are curtailed, by time and space, in a way that none of could have wished

In a way that none of us could have imagined

Yet here we are, a tiny gathering at the graveside, to commend Stephen to God’s loving care

And commit his body to be cremated

One of the peculiarities of this crisis is that, although our Churches are closed

Our experience as Christians, in this time of crisis, resonates with the experience of the early Church

It resembles the first Christians who could only meet together in very small groups

First, because, there were so few of them

And secondly because, like us, it was dangerous to do

The word ecclesia means a gathering

From which we get the word ecclesiastical

Thomas Cranmer states in the Book of Common Prayer that whenever “two or more are gathered together” there the Lord shall be [to hear and grant our prayers]

And so it is today when, despite our numbers, we meet as a Church

Stephen’s funeral falls in Holy Week and /tomorrow/ we will remember the death of our Lord on Good Friday

We normally have a vigil in the Priory when we try and put ourselves in the place of those who stood at the foot of the cross and wept

We can’t do that tomorrow, but we can today

John’s Gospel records that just four people were present at the foot of the cross

St Luke tells us that they “distanced themselves”

And it sounds so similar to the very small funeral we are having today

But rather than being far from the faith that Stephen embraced and served throughout his life

It is so very close

And it had to take this crisis to put us in the place of Christ’s followers all those years ago

This crisis is not going to end anytime soon

Like the first disciples we will go back to our houses, fearing for our lives and living in lockdown

But the majesty of Christianity and, in contrast to the first disciples, we know how this story unfolds

We know that, despite the desolation of the cross, the distance from the deceased and all the suffering and terror that surrounds death

That our Lord rose form the dead and appeared once again to his disciples

He showed us all that death has been conquered and, just as he said to his disciples, we will all take our place in God’s heavenly kingdom

And so today, we commend Stephen to Almighty God

Confident in his victory over death and Stephen’s place in his heavenly home