Tomorrow I shall be conducting the funeral of a lovely child, Lily, back in the Parish of Elson. She was six. Any of us who are parents, grandparents must identify with what the family are experiencing, and find it so hard to find words in these tragic circumstances. I pray that these words might bring a small crumb of comfort and a hope of the resurrection. As a tribute to this little girl, I am posting my homily here, and ask for your prayers for her parents, Mark and Kelly. May Lily rest in peace and rise in glory.
The Little Chiildren and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
When a child dies, we are inclined to say “What a pity she was taken before he was ripe and able to bear fruit”. We speak of promise rather than actual achievement. This would be, I believe, quite unfair to Lily.
We don’t speak in the same way of a new blade of wheat: we appreciate it for what it is – a blade of young wheat.
Every young person, no matter how brief their stay amongst us, has already borne some fruit. In the case of Lily, considerable fruit. And so we are gathered here this morning to celebrate that, as well as to reflect on our loss.
It is right that today is a sad day, but we must also reflect with joy on the life that was Lily’s.
Someone [Sir Laurens van der Post] once wrote:
“It is one of the most unjustifiable pretensions of our age that it measures time and experience by the clock. There are a host of considerations and values which a clock cannot possibly measure”
For many, the death of a child, and in particular the sudden and tragic death of a lively young person such as Lily is almost unspeakable. But if we shy away from such things, and remain in embarrassed silence, then we do a great disservice to Lily, to her memory and the impact she had on so many people around her; so speak we must about death, about loss and about the person who was Lily.
Lily was certainly a special little girl, a lively, engaging child with a zest for life and a talent for DIY. She loved playing in the park, where it appears she brought out the best behaviour in other older children there.
She was, of course, a popular and lively pupil of Elson Infant School, in Mrs Jeffreys and Mrs Ridley’s class and I am sure that all those young people will be missing her, most especially of course her special friend, Milly. On a recent school trip, I understand it was Lily’s idea to start the singing of the wheels on the bus.
She loved cooking and also being on the receiving end, pretending that she was in a hotel, complete with room service and on-tap Phantom of the Opera: a show which she and her daddy would act out all the parts and the songs. At other times, the family would be pottering around the Priddy’s Hard on the water and sharing that special time together.
So many memories. So much life and light brought into this family by this special, unique little girl. These are all qualities which are unmeasured by the clock, and I am sure you all have your own memories of Lily. I am sure that this will ensure that her memory is treasured for ever.
Whilst we are still not entirely certain of the circumstances of Lily’s tragic death, whatever burden she carried at that moment has been released. Christians believe that Christ draws all his children, regardless of age but especially his little ones to him and would give them relief.
Though she has gone from our sight into the loving arms of God, into the kingdom of heaven, Lily remains with us, through the memories, the love and prayer of those of you who remain here on earth. For death, although a physical loss to those of us here, is very much a part of life: death is not an end of your relationship with Lily, but merely a change in that relationship.
I am also very sure that along with the whole company of heaven, they pray for us also. Prayer is a two-way communication through the medium of God, and I must say, it can be a very great comfort in times of difficulty and sadness – prayer does not have to be complex, or a throwback to what you were taught as a young person: prayer however simple, however direct, however you choose to express it, a simple conversation with God and with Lily and can be a great comfort.
We do not know why young people like Lily have to die so early and so suddenly. It is not true to say that God wills it: that would be unthinkable. One thing that we do know for sure is this: God does not allow his little ones to suffer alone – he surrounds them with love – of their parents, family and friends.
In this sadness, it is often tempting to blame God for this tragedy; but that also would not be right – how often in times of despair and loneliness do we turn against those who love us most. God certainly does love us, and like a loving parent, he loves us even when we get angry at him, or are in despair of him. God has done what was promised in the Gospel reading: he has gathered Lily to him to release her from this life and whatever burdens she may have carried, or may have carried in the future, and he promises to lift the burden of those who are so bereaved by this tragic event: The bible tells us how God gathers those who suffer under his wings much as a Mother Hen gathers her chicks under her for protection [Matthew 25:27]. We should be assured of that, and whilst it does not diminish the reality of our loss of Lily in this life, we should be thankful for that.
We can be sure that God will take good care of her now that she has gone home to him. Lily will never be alone, we know that he has the love and the prayers of all those gathered here today. Mark said to me that he felt that their time together was so that he and Kelly might have been changed by this wonderful little person. That change in them which marked her life, will resonate forever, and all who gather today will take a little piece of Lily with them through out their lives. For this, we should give thanks to God, even when our thanks are marked by tears.
So now, we prepare to commend Lily’s soul to Almighty God, and pray for her as she makes this next step on her journey. Know that Christ offers his comfort in these times of sadness and loss, and know that Lily now in the loving arms of God continues to smile upon us all…