I have only had the good fortune to know Michael for the last nine years, so I am grateful – as I’m sure you are – to Bob, for that lovely tribute, and to the many people who contributed to it and put it together. And of course, as we all know, such a tribute – fitting and loving as it is, no tribute can do much more than touch on the surface of someone such as Mike, so well-achieved, so well-respected, so well-loved.
There is little I can add to it, of course, although I should perhaps confess that it was Mike who introduced me to vodka and tonic, and to reveal the fact that the image of Mike in a galabaya – that’s a dress – on a Nile cruise boat in Egypt, is one that I’ll probably never be able to erase!
Not that anything about Michael will be erased, of course – and that is the point of what I want to say to you today on this, not-very-easy occasion. For while we might want to say, in spiritual terms, as we entered the church, we might want to say that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ – we might also want to say, in similar terms, that we cannot be separated from anything of Mike.
Michael was an educator and I’m reminded of an educational maxim that speaks in terms of the four ‘L’s. I think I once referred to them on a parish weekend at Launde Abbey, which Mike and Betty could well have been at. The four L’s are for all of us, and they say that we all want to live, to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy. And it’s obvious, isn’t it, that Michael has done all four with honours.
He has lived a life – and what a full life that has been.
73 years is not a great age these days, but he packed a lot into those years and did more than many folk do in more time. Bob has touched on the richness of Mike’s life, and we all have stories, recollections and gratitudes to share and to cherish concerning his achievements and actions. I hope, and pray, and know, that these will sustain us in coming days, weeks and years.
But also in Michael’s lifetime, he has learnt, and taught, so much. So many have learnt at his feet as it were, so many have been taught so much, not only about cars, but about life. And of this means of course, that Mike himself learnt a great deal about many things – learning which he intelligently assimilated, processed and passed on to others. There is no greater gift than the ability to teach.
Well, perhaps there is one – and that is the ability to love. And Mike has loved – oh how he loved. You know how much he loved you, and you him. Love is what matters. We describe God in terms of love, and yet we feel that when someone dies, the love comes to an end. But it doesn’t – indeed, it is the love that we are left with. The love is still there – which is why it hurts. But that same love changes us – and we come to realise that it doesn’t harm us, but rather it sustains us. It is not the love that we have lost, but the love that we are left with. Love – Mike’s love – is his true legacy. For he has left a legacy – a legacy of learning and a legacy of love.
And indeed he has left a legacy of service to this church too. As sometime PCC Secretary, Computer Course helper and ultimately treasurer; as Youth Club leader and also with the parents’ committee of the Scouts, Michael contributed big time. Many will recall his – I’m told – eventful – trip to the Isle of Mull with Jonathan Sewell and the Scouts. And speaking of contributions – Michael was a key player in the planning of stewardship in this church too.
Such is Michael’s gift – his legacy – of service to us, which we celebrate and give thanks for today.
And then, finally, there is, in fact, another L. Or rather, the first ‘L’, comes round again. Mike has lived a fine and full and faithful life. And it is because of that that we truly can be comforted, even at his passing, and because of that that we need not let our hearts be troubled about what happens to Michael and what happens to ourselves. For after our lives of learning, loving and legacy-leaving have run their course, there is the prize of another life, an eternal life reserved for us. The prize, as Jesus put it to his disciples, of being taken to himself – to dwell in that place of many dwellings – the place of eternal, resurrection life. For the life of faith – the life of faith such as Michael led, does not come to an end, even at the end of a brave, dignified battle with a damaged, disintegrating body. Painful as Mike’s last weeks were for him, and for us to watch and endure, painful as all that has been, it is now time to let go, and as he rests, free from the burdens of disease – to rest in the sure and certain hope of eternal life through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is the hope Michael took to his grave, and which he takes beyond it. It is the hope in which we continue to hold, and love him, and it is the hope in which we stand, and it is the only hope in which our sorrow makes any sense at all. Because we have hope, we can cope.
So thus it is that as we bid farewell today, we do far more than that. We say goodbye – yes that has to be done, but we also give thanks for all the loving, living and legacy-leaving; and we even dare to celebrate – to enjoy even, the recollection of what a fine and beloved man he was. Treasure all that you have in Michael’s legacy of life and learning and love, and you will find some comfort.
And then, until we meet again in the heavenly city, prepared as a dwelling place for us all, until then, may Michael rest in peace, to rise in glory. Amen.
Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield 10/1/12