Sunday 8 March 2020

The Johns at home in church

Home of praying hands

The Coronavirus named COVID-19 played a major part in moderating affection in our church community today. In exchanging the sign of peace, we took to clasping our hands in prayer fashion as the bowed to each other in a type of Indian subcontinental greeting, the dean having set us off with a greeting in Zulu and our response translating to ‘may it spread’, obviously, not the virus, but the message of peace.
At Communion, I usually dip the wafer in the cup, we were first required last week to ensure our fingers did not touch the wine. This time, the dipping was forbidden, we either drunk from the cup or just took the bread.
These limitations however did not trammel the homeliness of the church community, we fellowshipped with a full choir stall and quite familiar hymns that lent themselves to full-throated singing.
Home of long remembrance
The theme of home and the adventure of leaving the known for the unknown in search of a new home to prosper in linked the readings to the sermon, referring to Abram who became Abraham, the father of many nations and the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus in the search of understanding of the what, why, and purpose of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
More poignantly, it was the tale of two Johns that was of the greatest import to me, for after the Sung Eucharist, the Dean did in another short service say, ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.
The first John was born in Manchester became a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and rose to the prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral. He was however burnt at the stake for his Church of England faith, though purported for crimes against Mary Tudor who in her reign espoused Catholicism by persecuting reformers and adherents of Anglicanism. I wonder if presumed heretics of that day were burnt to ashes or simply made to suffer to death with a fiery end.

Home of today’s internment
The John today was a banker, a schools inspector, and master of a freemason lodge with an interest in freemason histories over the centuries. His ashes were interred in the cathedral Remembrance Garden, he had passed on in November, after which were church events of a memorial service in December and today, his family brought his mortal remains to the church for burial. I had never before witnessed a post-cremation interment, the solemnity of it along with an apparent absence of immediate family participation in the ceremony besides the laying of the flowers.
The one burial I fully witnessed, back in August 1977, had family, relations and friends pour handfuls of earth over the coffin before graveyard workers shovelled earth over the coffin. The little box or urn of ashes was laid in the ground hardly 2 feet deep and once the priest sprinkled on earth as part of the liturgy, the verger shovelled on the earth and covered the urn.
Home in church now
We left for refreshments whilst the family reflected there for a moment. The cycle of life in the church which has seen births, baptisms, confirmations, consecrations, the banns, marriages, and a few deaths remind us of our mortality and the bigger community of the church where whether hale and hearty, infirm and weak, or dearly departed, we continue in the respect and fellowship with each other, in communion or remembrance.
Indeed, the church is a place you can call home.

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