+ “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… And so we will be with the Lord forever. Encourage one another with these words.”
Encourage one another, that is just what we are doing today as we remember Isobel Margaret Winnington-Ingram. Peter gave us a lovely and warm tribute and tour of her life and now it falls to me to try and give a little more of the Christian context.
In the hymn we just sang the words ‘we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee’. Good words for a keen gardener like Isobel and we can look to the things that endure in us amidst all the fascinating changes of our lives. But we shouldn’t neglect the things that change, as the hymn also says ‘in all life thou livest, the true life of all’, God is present in the garden, amidst the political chat, in the officer called Richard standing by the fireplace in Kenya, in the hospitable house in Barnton Avenue as the steak and corn casserole is served.
Without change there would be no music and music helps us hear God, so it is particularly appropriate that we have our choir singing, the hymns, organ and Laura’s beautiful piece by James Macmillan. This is really a service that wrote itself and I hope it gives a portrait of Isobel as you remember her. One thing I love about it is I was told we must NOT sing ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ to Crimond as she saw it as sentimental.
We will, however, hear the choir sing the Kontakion of the departed to an ancient melody from Kyiv, an Easter Orthodox prayer which is part of the Scottish Episcopal funeral liturgy and was first sung in an Anglican context at the funeral of King George V. You may remember it from the funerals of the late Queen and Prince Philip. Here music and words combine in hope, ‘Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing, but life everlasting’. In the Scottish Episcopal Church we pray for the dead and this is perhaps best seen, not as freeing them from pain, but accompanying them with our love as they enter deeper into that love of God which is ‘life everlasting’. We are separated from them in the body but not separated in love and faith.
Love endures and all the things that endure in us are particularly interesting and revealing. We die in different ways and a peaceful death is not always given to a peaceful soul, but from what I have heard in Isobel’s case the death reflected the soul, full of grace and thankfulness. These were the words used by those who visited or looked after her in her last years, and I recognise this from when I saw her. Her last words were ‘thank you’. Dementia can be a cruel thing and cause anger in the most placid of persons, but sometimes the stripping away can reveal the beauty beneath.
We can see this in the things people said about her, thanks to Peter for sharing these, ‘a fine listener’, someone who created ‘an island of peace and tranquillity’ in Barnton Avenue, a lady with ‘a luminous Scottish quality’.
But where did this unsentimental grace come from? Peter has given the answer, from her quiet, understated Christian faith which expressed itself in the quality of her life; like the saying ‘proclaim the faith and if necessary use words’. The diary entry about the sermon and pruning the roses sums it up. There was clearly more going on under the surface. My predecessor, Douglas Kornahrens, wrote to Julia, ‘Richard and Isabel were among the most charming and delightful people I have ever met. In all the time I knew Isabel, she was always gracious, always kind, always interesting, and never unkind or complaining. She never made any claims about her faith, in her slightly self deprecating way, but experience of her over years told a rather different story. She was a woman of faith in Jesus Christ, who put her trust in him.’
When Paul said to the Thessalonians ‘Encourage one another’, he meant us to do this with the heart of the Christian faith, Jesus died and risen: ‘we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him’. This is our hope and we can hold it in its fullness here, with respect for those who hold other opinions, but where and how did it grow in this lady who did not wear her faith on her sleeve? There was probably the influence of missionaries in Kenya, there was certainly the influence of her two churches in Edinburgh, St Thomas’s, Corstorphine, where she did pastoral visiting, and here at Holy Cross, where among other things she took part in the Bible study group run by Mary Harrison. I’m told she read the Bible and Christian books such as those of CS Lewis at home and presumably also prayed.
And it is with prayer that I will end for our life of prayer is hidden in God. Jesus told us to go into our room, close the door and pray to our Father in secret. This is something we are often reticent about, especially people of Isobel’s generation and background. But it was certainly there. I suspect proof of this is the faith of her family, Christianity is more often caught than taught and it certainly seems to be contagious in her family, many Christian women would be pleased to have their grandson lead prayers at their funeral. But many very holy people have families who abandon the faith, I suspect the real proof of a hidden life of prayer is an end full of grace and thankfulness.
Prayer leads to peace with God and may we all, as we remember Isobel Winnington-Ingram, be granted that peace in our lives and at the last. I’ll end with Jesus’ words to Thomas, read by Carol at the service this morning at the crematorium, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’.