Sermon for Funeral Mass – Philip Harland Thursday 9 July 2015
Sermon preached by Prebendary Alan Moses, Vicar of All Saints
First of all, Yvonne would like to thank all of you for being here. She would like to thank all those who have written to her or visited her at Lancaster Court, and those who look after her there.
I know that some of you will have had a struggle getting here because of the Tube strike. Some, I know have walked heroic distances to be here and some who wanted to be here could not make it. Some have made long journeys, not least Fr. David Paton, all the way from the south of France and Fr. James from Birmingham who will be officiating at the burial tomorrow morning. If you do not have to rush off to start your homeward journey, please join us for refreshments in the courtyard after the service, and a chance to talk to Yvonne, who we are delighted is able to be here.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every picture, we say, tells a story. The photograph which Yvonne and I chose for this order of service is not one of Philip alone but of the two of them together. It shows them coming out of church on the 40th anniversary of their wedding. Few of us here can ever have known them as anything other than as a couple, as husband and wife, as Philip and Yvonne. When I began preparing this sermon, I realized just how difficult it is to think or speak of one without the other.
On that ruby wedding, and their golden one, Philip and Yvonne chose to give thanks for the blessings of their marriage here at All Saints, and then with a great lunch party to which they invited their many friends. Faith and friendship and generosity were combined on those special occasions, as they were in the whole of their life.
In one sense, their world, like the mobile home they lived in, was a small one. They never moved far from where they had been born and brought up. They carried on doing the same work, he in the printing trade and she in nursing all those years. They found fulfillment and enrichment in the day to day duties and joys of life with each other and with friends and neighbours. But like the Tardis in Dr. Who, or this church, what seemed small on the outside was much larger and roomier on the inside.
Philip would cheerfully admit that it was Yvonne who kept him right. They spoke on various occasions of the cycling holidays they had enjoyed in the West Country in their youth. They rode a tandem in those days – a bicycle made for two – what else? Yvonne rode at the back and she had a brake – so she could control Philip’s excessive enthusiasm for speed – something she also had to do later with his driving! She would also restrain his love of food. Latterly, out of her sight, he was able to indulge in more chocolate than is good for a diabetic.
They had been teenage sweethearts, and in a sense, they always were; in their obvious affection for and devotion to each other. They are proof that good and happy relationships, rich and fulfilled lives, do not depend on acquiring the ideal home or the accumulation of material possessions, or status in the world, but on that mutual self-giving, patterned on the self-giving love of Christ, which our faith sees as the heart of married life: what the Marriage Service calls, “the mutual society, help and comfort, that the one ought to have for the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”
That reading from Isaiah, with its vision of the heavenly banquet, the feast of good things, reflects Philip’s love of food and eating with friends. He and Yvonne had this great capacity to make friends wherever they went. If you went out for a meal with them in one of their favourite eating places, it was immediately apparent that they knew the staff – and not as people paid to serve them – but as friends, people they were genuinely interested in and cared about – and that the staff recognized this. In these last years, after Philip had to give up driving, the same was true of the drivers at the taxi firm they used, as I discovered when I went out to visit them and the drivers would chat happily about them.
Their love for each other was not turned inwards. It flowed out in care and generosity towards others, as many of us can testify.
Philip’s life, which we celebrate today, is a lesson to us all that we do not need to do extraordinary things to make a difference. We can do the ordinary things: the duties of work, marriage, friendship, in extraordinary ways, with faithfulness and perseverance; so that they become not only a duty but a joy.
Philip and Yvonne rejoiced in the blessings they had experienced together, but they had also known adversity. These last few years especially have been hard and testing for them both. With Yvonne’s increasing disability, life has been a long, wearisome and often frustrating round of hospital appointments and stays. I think I have visited every hospital in Hertfordshire. Philip has been a devoted and tireless visitor and companion, even though his own health was far from good.
In that last stage of his life, since Yvonne had moved into Lancaster Court, their life has been centred there. But disability and ill health did not stop them from making new friends. They could not celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary here in church, although Philip did make a special effort to be here on the following Sunday. Instead there was a party in Lancaster Court, with much singing of the songs of their youth and a huge and very sweet cake. I don’t know how many slices he had. At one stage Yvonne said on that day, “Why are people doing so much for us?” One of the friends they made there, Barbara, said something like this, “They are doing it because you are the kind of people you are.”
Philip and Yvonne planned their funeral services together. (We will have to do all this again one day: same hymns, readings, and music.) They wanted this service to be an expression of gratitude to God for the blessings they had received from him, from each other, and from you and others like you who cannot be here. This mass celebrates the faith which formed, guided and inspired their lives. It expresses the hope in which we commend Philip into God’s loving care.
That faith teaches us that for those who believe in “the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to eternal life,” death is not the end but the gateway to new life with God. It is a life we share with those we love but see no longer. We are with them when we pray. Just a few days before he died, Philip and Yvonne received communion together for the last time and told me how special that was. When we worship with all the company of heaven in this sacrament, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which binds this world to the next, and the living to the departed, we know that we are at one with those who have gone before us.
Yvonne would say sometimes, of Philip, when he wasn’t there: “He’s been a good man.” The Philip we all knew was a good man, but he would never make such a claim. He was a Christian who knew his need of the divine mercy and forgiveness which this mass celebrates.
He would say that whatever goodness came from his faith and the love he knew from God and from those who loved him; not least, the woman he had been blessed to spend his life with.