This is your Life

Do you remember the television show, ‘This is your life’? It was presented by an Irishman Eamon Andrews, and later Michael Aspel, who would tell the life story of a famous person. It had to be a complete surprise. Friends and families would be in on it, but the person concerned would know nothing about it. At the end of the show there would be a tearful reunion as some important person from their past was flown in from the other side of the world. My father always used to watch that show, and though he’s not an emotional man, he’d always start sniveling at that point, it got him every time.

When I speak at a funeral service, I feel a little bit like Eamon Andrews when I talk about the person who has died, telling the story of their life from beginning to end. It’s quite a privilege to learn about the whole of someone’s life, and as George Formby said about window-cleaning, for a nosey parker, it’s an interesting job.

It is therapeutic for the family to begin to share memories and get back to remembering the person who lived.

Our gospel reading today (John 14), is very often read at funerals. The fact that Jesus says that there are many rooms in our Father’s house gives us hope that there is potentially room for all of us, never mind what faults and failings we might have. St John has Jesus saying this at the Last Supper after he has washed their feet. Thomas, the apostle who says what he thinks and who asks the awkward questions, tells him ‘we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?’ To which Jesus replies with that wonderful threefold statement about himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’

Jesus is the way. He is the means by which we can get to God.

When people go on pilgrimage, it is the walking of the way which is as important or more important than the actual goal. Beside the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset there is a hill called the Glastonbury Tor, with St Michael’s chapel on the top. If you climb up circling the hill, round and round til you reach the top it is said that if you begin the ascent with a question by the time you reach the top you will have found the answer.

God is the biggest thing our little human minds can imagine. God is the ultimate truth. God is who God is, and no matter what you or I say believe about him changes him one little bit. And people do get him wrong, big time. 'I am who I am' God tells Moses from the burning bush. 'If you want to see the Father, look at me', Jesus tells Philip. 'I and the Father are one'. Jesus is also that truth, and he shows us what God is in human terms.

Jesus is the life, and he promised that faith in him will give life in all its fullness, it makes life complete.  If we were to enjoy a little bit of luxury, sipping a pina colada on the deck of the Queen Mary 2, watching the sunset in the Caribbean, we might say 'aah, this is the life, wouldn’t it be wonderful if life could be like this all the time?'  But we know it cannot be like that all the time. In fact, it may well be the complete opposite some of the time.

I once took the funeral of a lady from Great Yarmouth who finished her days in a care home. She was 98 and a very tough lady, known as 'the general' in the family, and she’d been a shop steward at a factory, and would give the management what for. She had known terrible tragedy in her life.   Her mother died when she was a child. She was bombed out of one house in Yarmouth and flooded out of another. She lost a daughter as a baby, her husband was knocked down and killed in an accident on the street. That might make some people turn away from God. They might ask how God can let this happen. Not this lady, her faith in Jesus helped see her through. She knew that what Jesus said is true, that he is the life. And when I saw her the day before she died, though very weak, when she knew I was there she gave me my orders: 'last rites’ . I obeyed the general’s command and I was able to anoint her and lay on hands as she completed her earthly journey.

At the end of each show, Eamon Andrews would hand the guest celebrity the red book, and say ‘this is your life’. As Christians we live our lives not just for ourselves, but for others, not just for ourselves but for him who is the way the truth and the life.