All Saints Margaret Street | High Mass of Requiem – Graham Hawkes Monday 26 November 2012

Sermon for High Mass of Requiem – Graham Hawkes Monday 26 November 2012

GRAHAM HAWKES               Sermon preached at the Funeral Mass, 26th November, 2012

Before the Commendation at the end of the service, Canon Graham Derriman, who has known Graham for many more years than I have, will pay tribute to him. He has kindly let me see what he has prepared in advance. It has informed what I want to say, but I am not going to steal his best lines! The duty of a preacher at a funeral is to proclaim the Gospel; not in a vague and generalised way but in relation to specific lives: in this case, Graham’s life.  

In discussions and debate about human conduct, “nature” is often set over against “nurture”. Does our behaviour spring from our DNA; were we just made that way, good or bad? Or does it come from our upbringing and education; are we formed into good people or bad by family and social context, church and school?

The division is of course an artificial one. Most people will recognise that both have roles to play. But it came to mind when I began thinking about this sermon for Graham’s funeral. 

The Graham I came to know in the years he has worshipped here at All Saints, and whose earlier life I learned something of in conversations, and now have a fuller picture of, was a genial, gracious and good man; large-hearted, generous-spirited and open- minded.  The smile we see on the front cover of the service booklet was not something put on for the camera. It came from within and reflected the warmth of his personality.

Christians are sometimes divided into the “once born” and the “twice-born.”  The “twice-born” are those who undergo dramatic Damascus Road style conversions from misspent lives. The “once-born” are often those who seem to have been good-natured from the start; born that way.  They have, like Graham, been brought up in loving Christian families, grown up in the life of the Church, and been formed by both. What seem their innate qualities have been shaped and strengthened by the influences they have experienced.

But inheritances can be squandered. It is clear to me that Graham did not waste the gifts he received by “nature” or “nurture.” His career in education was marked by a care which went far beyond contracts and clock-watching.  He brought to his work that personal commitment, and commitment to people,  which makes all the difference to how institutions function; which makes of a school or college for something greater than a qualification factory; a place from which young people emerge more rounded and whole than they went in.  he went on caring about this and doing something about it long after he retired. During his working life and in retirement, Graham seems to have been involved in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities and respected and valued in all of them for the same reason.

St. John of the Cross says, “Where there is no love, put in love, and you will find love.”  I don’t know whether Graham knew that maxim, although he might well have heard it in sermons down the years, but he certainly put it into practice. Those who would be virtuous and good must practice virtue and goodness. 

St. John of the Cross also said that, “In the evening of life we will be judged on love.” And we can give thanks that one who gave so generously, himself found loving companionship with Jerry – even if it was a relationship which had to be sustained with the help of modern means of communication from opposite sides of the world much of the time. 

The Church of England is slowly and painfully coming to recognise the goodness of such relationships.  It is, I think, one of the miracles of grace that Graham, and others like him, have been enabled to see beyond the Church’s official stance to God’s love for all his children.  While there is a long way to go, we can give thanks today for the happiness Graham and Jerry found with and in each other and in the possibility of making a public act of commitment to each other in their Civil Partnership.  

Being on the margins can some times make people defensive and prickly, but it can also give a new insight and openness.  When Graham was asked, in the light of All Saints, Margaret Street’s frosty reputation, if he minded that one of the hospital chaplains who would be ministering to him was a woman, he replied with a smile: “How can someone in my position object?”  

That photograph on the service sheet reminds me that it was a surprise to find out how old Graham actually was. He wore his years well. Was this an accident of genetics, or was it the result of a good and contented life?  Since his cancer was diagnosed some 18 months ago, Graham has conducted himself with a quiet and cheerful courage which sprang from his deep faith in God, and the love which he shared with Jerry and with so many friends.  He carried on through months of chemotherapy, knowing that the end was inevitable, but determined to make the most of whatever time he had left with those he loved.  There was nothing of funereal gloom about him.

When the time came to discuss this service, he wanted it to be a joyful occasion of thanksgiving for all that he had received in life: both the gifts of others and the opportunity to give of himself.

Graham loved organ music as you know, and he has chosen one of the most exuberant pieces in the repertoire to be played while he is carried from the church today. I’m sure it will bring a smile to our faces, a tap to our feet, and joy to our hearts as we say farewell from this life to one whom we hope to meet again in the next, where we will all enjoy the music of heaven.  

Sermon preached by The Vicar