The Funeral of Gwyneth Dunwoody in St Margaret's Church
8 May 2008 at :00 am
We have come together in this church that Gwyneth knew and loved, and where she worshipped when she was able to, to give thanks for Gwyneth’s life and to pray for her as she takes this next stage on her journey to God.
Although Gwyneth was sharp as a razor and, to follow that simile, could be equally cutting, she was, in the experience of many gathered here today, also immensely compassionate and caring. And there are lots of stories to tell of her kindness. Donald Anderson said of Gwyneth “She was a great troublemaker, mostly in good causes”. She was a hugely respected Member of Parliament by the public and Parliamentarians and this was recognised by the Prime Minister who said that Gwyneth “represented the best of parliamentary democracy.”
Betty Boothroyd has just read the exchange between Jesus and a Scribe – perhaps with echoes of Gwyneth’s own parliamentary questioning – when Jesus silenced the Scribe with his wise replies, and we read: After that no-one dared to ask him any questions – not Gwyneth, I suspect, “skilled” as Donald Anderson also said, “ in using both the rapier and the sledge hammer.” Gwyneth never let any of us get away with loose ideas, so I very much hope that she would not have minded my text for today. It is from St Augustine: All shall be Amen and Alleluia!
We are probably familiar with Amen because we use it regularly to end our prayers, meaning Yes, truly! And Alleluia! – a Jewish word that the early Church took over for its own worship meaning “Praise the Lord.” All shall be Amen and Alleluia! – Yes, praise the Lord.
In St John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” St John asks the church to reflect that Jesus is the resurrection and the life not just for the crisis moment of death, but for all moments in life. Surely Gwyneth knew that in her life as she dusted herself down, got up and got on with the next task. Jesus as the resurrection and the life is key to our understanding of the meaning of life and death, because Jesus announces that the world is now definitively under God’s care and power.
Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life." The promise of resurrection and life is not just some distant event, but is available already in the person of Jesus. This fact assures us, in both death and life, that death no longer has power over us. In life, death did not threaten Jesus because, in death, he was assured of life in the presence of God.
So what Jesus promises us is new life, lived in him: ordinary existence but lived in a new way, in the knowledge of the one true God, something that changes existence into life – authentic life, life in all its fullness. That is God’s invitation to us: if we will enter into a deep relationship with Jesus we find that the love of God that sustains us and raises us is an intimate presence at the centre of our own identity that cannot be taken away from us.
Now I don’t know if Gwyneth ever talked of this publicly or with you but I do know that she had a very pragmatic and earthy relationship with her Maker whom she hoped was, and I think knew is, a generous merciful and forgiving God.
Last Christmas eve, as Gwyneth walked down the steps from the lectern in Westminster Abbey having read a lesson at the Carol Service, she didn’t say Amen, Alleluia – but I bet that was what she was thinking!