Not long ago we were being savaged by a beastly (and snowy) easterly wind, and now we are bathed by strong Spring sunshine that would not put August to shame were it four months later. That’s the changeable British weather for you! So it was that earlier today (I am writing on Friday 20th) in brilliant sunshine and glorious warmth we gathered at Trinity to honour Peter Clarke at his funeral. The Army Air Corps, medals shining as bright as their best boots, accompanied the coffin, draped in the regimental flag, and topped by Peter’s beret and medals. He was as much loved in that community as he was in ours here at ABC, and we shall miss him. After the service the family transferred to the New Cemetery, and we laid Peter to rest with his beloved Jean, where together their bodies shall await the resurrection from the dead, while the persons whom we knew and loved are together within the love of Christ in that place of utter security and peace that awaits all of us who receive the mercy of God. It is that ‘undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveller returns’ (as Shakespeare described it in Hamlet — in that era of discovery of so much of the globe hidden to the medieval mind) and our exact fate is appropriately undiscovered by all who have yet to land on its distant shores — but since Christ is there, what have we to fear? In my last visit to Peter as he lay dying, we read Romans 8:18–39: “neither death nor life…. can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” It was such a privilege to know Peter — “a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:24) — and even more to preside, together with Steve, at his funeral. One thing that will stay with me for a long time, knowing that Peter had both flown gliders at Arnhem, where he was captured for staying with the wounded, and had enjoyed piloting gliders much later in his life, was the way in which Red Kites flew the thermals above the cemetery as we gathered there — as if they had come to pay tribute to one of their own! May God grant him rest, and in the life to come plenty of thermals to ride.
We had just returned from a holiday just 36 hours previously, and one of the ‘discoveries’ of that trip was the large ‘chapel’ in Prague where Jan Huss had preached in the 15th century. Like the Englishman John Wycliffe, who influenced Huss, he was a ‘Reformer’ more than a century before the Reformation was started by Luther. And like Luther, he never intended to start a new church, but longed to see the Catholic church reformed. He was burnt at the stake for his pains and strong biblical convictions, and so his witness accompanied those of many others who paid with their lives for faithfulness to their Lord. In England today, it is not so much our differences in belief between our differing Christian communities that focuses our concerns, but rather how together we can continue to reach across the denominational divides and concentrate upon the things we have in common, all in the context of a culture that is rapidly letting go of God. Thankfully, God is not letting go of us, and so it is with an enormous sense of God’s enabling hand that I begin to prepare to lead Churches Together in England as I move on from ABC. We have a society to witness to and a world to win for Christ, and so I am excited to be following David Cornick in that role, and see how the Lord will enable us to deepen our witness to Christ and his gospel. Knowing that Abingdon churches have strong ecumenical links reassures me of the good things that God will do in our town, and that in this small-ish corner of the country we can expect God to be at work as powerfully as anywhere, if we trust, pray and step out in faith.