The silence of eternity, interpreted by love

A sermon preached at the funeral of Barbara Dews, 11 April 2024.

Barbara went to church and sang hymns through her long life. So they got woven into her heart and mind. They gave her language which made some sense of her experience, encouraged her, giving direction. And so it is not surprising that near her end, she made a note of hymns she would like us to sing with her when we are left without her. In the words and spirit of these hymns, you may find the Barbara you know. And you may want to receive these hymns as her last words, worthy of your loving attention. 

So in our first hymn, we have cheerfully given thanks to God our Father for the life we frail creatures are enabled to live: God is slow to chide and swift to bless, and in his hands he gently bears us.  

And in a few minutes, we will be singing a song of the gritty courage of pilgrims journeying through a barren land, pilgrims who need to be held by a mighty hand all the way through. On their way life, hard as it may be, they find that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Jesus – not even death… Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. 

Howard tells me that the hymn we have just sung, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, (humankind, we should say, except that it messes up the rhythm) is the hymn that most closely expresses the spirit of Barbara and the life she lived. So let’s think about it a bit.  

Note first it is a prayer – in prayer we come to God, and God comes to us. We talk to God in our way: God talks to us in God’s way – we come close to God, in all praying, we have to be open to the closeness of God, even when that disturbs us

We are all in the embrace of God, all together human beings, children in God’s family – if we come close to God our Father, we find ourselves in the great motley crowd of all his children. We come to the Dear Lord and Father of mankind  – 

There is no private audience, with God, there is no special exclusive relation.  This is a We prayer, like the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, not an I-prayer.

It’s a very common, truthful reaction, that whenever we are in close company with God, that we see we fall short of the glory of God – we are not fit to be here.

So we pray straightaway, 

Dear Lord and Father of mankind – forgive our foolish ways;

Forgive – does not mean – let us off, as though our foolish ways, our waste of life, our hurt to one another and the world, don’t matter – God doesn’t mind – not that at all. Forgive means release us from our foolish ways, get us on to the good way of life,

reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of your peace.

– that is the reality God’s forgiving works towards.

And how does God do the work of moving us from foolish ways into life and love together?   


God takes action to release us from our sin, and turn us around – God comes in Jesus, and calls us, as he called the disciples in Galilee – they heard and then without a word, rose up and followed him –

Walking with Jesus, is to find ourselves doing all sorts of good with Jesus, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, weeping over the city that does not know what makes for peace, telling revealing stories to get under the resistance of who don’t want to hear good news, all together giving ourselves in the service of the Father of all – 

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

That was the story of the first disciples of Jesus, – that has been Barbara’s story, – let us, like them, rise up and follow Jesus 

And now let me share one more phrase from this hymn which has grabbed me, 

Jesus knelt to share with The Father, the silence of eternity, interpreted by love –

In the life of Jesus, as in any life, there was a lot of strain and stress. Six days hard work makes the Sabbath rest necessary, welcome and refreshing 

Jesus went into the hills, away from the madding crowds, to share Sabbath rest with the Lord and Father of all – and what did he find there? What was he brought into?  

The silence of eternity…

On such deep Silence, words and understanding, so useful and powerful in our everyday living, die away and we are left disoriented…

In itself, the silence of eternity is very Frightening, it is like being lost and alone in the endlessness of the universe without even a space-suit, —adrift in a tiny Now, between the vast Before and the unimaginable After

But if we are taken into the silence of eternity by God in Jesus, if we are given a place in the Father’s house which we heard about in Gospel reading, then we discover the silence is interpreted by love, the fear is taken away, the love is there in God, 

Just as the love is here in what we are doing today…

We cannot reach Barbara, no living words can now be spoken between us, or can be heard by us –  

She has been taken from us into the silence of eternity… and we are disorientated….but in this whole service, we are drawn into interpreting the silence of eternity by love, 

Our love, joining with the love of God, interprets the silence of eternity, through prayer, and hymns and readings and with our hearts being moved through the sharing of memories. The silence of loss, of absence, is being interpreted by love, until love envelops and comforts us and spurs us to go on in the way of the loving with God.  

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