Given by the Precentor

Psalm 133; Romans 11:1; Matthew 15: 21-28

Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity.[1]

This is a special place, full of special people; and nobody knew that more than Jim Godfrey. He knew this building – every stone, every monument, every window. He knew this community – every member, every volunteer. He spent more than half of his life as a verger here in this building, serving God by serving God’s people.

We loved him. We miss him. We grieve for him.

Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to realise how much people care for one another. I have been so proud of my colleagues in the last few days, as we have worked together despite our shock and grief to take care of one another, of the wider community, and to remember those who were particularly close to Jim. And that’s a fitting tribute to Jim, who was part of the team; part of the community. Our brother in Christ, part with us of the universal church and of this particular House of Christ, dwelling with us in unity. It was good and joyful to work with Jim. We miss him.

In his first letter to the Thessalonian church (not one of today’s readings), St Paul is writing to a community whose faith has been shaken by the death of some of their brothers and sisters, with whom they had dwelt in unity. Paul writes to them ‘so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’[2]  There are people who misinterpret this as telling us not to grieve at all – they are wrong. We may grieve: for the pain Jim was in before his life ended, for his life cut short, for our own loss, for the loss to our friends, for the loss most especially to Jim’s family. We would not be human if we did not. We do not need to add to our burdens a feeling that we should not mourn.

But we do not grieve as those do who have no hope.

Our sadness is for ourselves and for those left behind; not for Jim. Jim is with his Father, the God who made him and loved him throughout his life, the God who loves him still and receives him into the light and peace of the everlasting Kingdom. That is our hope; the hope which does not disappoint us.

Although this hope does not disappoint us, I’m not expecting it to console us – it doesn’t make everything all right. It doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t heal the pain of expecting him to be sitting in the office when I go up the stairs, or of not knowing the answer to a tourist’s question and thinking ‘I’ll ask Jim that.’

What it does do is promise that this world, this life, in which pain and loss and grief happen all to frequently, is the shadow world, not the real world. In the real world – the kingdom of heaven, the new heaven and the new earth – there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. In that real world Jim is safe and at peace; his struggles are over and his mind is at rest. I’ve read this poem in this cathedral before, but this is a day for Evangeline Paterson:

and that will be heaven

at last      the first unclouded



to stand like the sunflower

turned full face to the sun       drenched

with light       in the centre

held        while the circling planets

hum with utter joy


seeing and knowing

at last      in every particle

seen and known      and not turning



never turning away



Jesus shows us a glimpse of that unclouded seeing, of that being seen and known, in his healing miracles. These are hard to read in times of tragedy. If Jesus really has the power to heal and to save, what is he doing? Why did Jim suffer so much? Why did he die? Why did Jesus allow him to be in so much pain, and why has Jesus allowed the pain that this death has caused?

It may or may not help to think of these miracles, not as individual gifts given to individual people – though they were that too, of course – but as moments where the curtain of heaven is pulled back and the real world, God’s perfect world, slips into view, overlaying the shadow world of pain and death. Miracles aren’t special gifts given to special people; they’re windows on what it will be like to live drenched in the light of God’s glory.

So when, in today’s gospel reading, the sick daughter is healed,[4] that’s not just out of concern for the woman and her daughter. Jesus cares about them – but even in Galilee, even when Jesus was there, there were people he could not get to, people he did not heal. Jesus also cares about showing there is more going on than we can see; that there is a place where torment of every kind will end. We cannot escape it in this world – and goodness knows we know that, viscerally and painfully, today. But this world is not all there is.

To quote Paul again, this time from our reading: has God rejected his people? By no means![5] Paul is writing into a different situation, but answering a very similar question: does God go back on his promises? Is it possible to lose God’s love?

By no means. By no means! God’s calling is for all time and God’s mercy is more powerful than anything else. Even when it feels as if we are rejected; even when we are in the middle of crushing loss; even when we feel abandoned; God has not rejected us. Just as God has not rejected Jim. The glimpse of heaven we see in the healing of the little girl, the glimpse of heaven we may see occasionally in our own lives, is now Jim’s reality. Jim is safe and at home with his Father. And though we mourn, we do not mourn as those who have no hope.

Paul continued, to the Thessalonians, ‘therefore comfort one another with these words.’[6] And comforting one another is a powerful thing – so powerful that it too can provide a little window of heaven, of the grace of God, of the hope that does not disappoint us. Comforting one another is best done – contra Paul – not with words, but with presence and with listening and with acts of kindness. Jim’s family need that now, and so do his friends and his colleagues – especially those who worked with him very closely day by day. If you have comfort to spare, if you can hold fast to your hope in your mourning, please share that comfort and hope through gentle solidarity with those whose grip is shakier.

Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity.

Unity as those who loved Jim here in this community to which he belongs with us.

Unity of those who believe in the blessing God has promised, in life forevermore.

Unity of those who comfort one another and share our hope.

And unity that does not end with death. Jim is still part of this community: missed and mourned and remembered with great thankfulness for all that we shared. Jim is still part of the people of God, who are never rejected. God has received him, seen and known him, fully understood and fully healed him and drenched him in unclouded light. And one day we too will be held by God, seen and known, and never turn away again.


[1] Psalm 133: 1

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4: 13b

[3] Evangeline Paterson (1928-2000), from Lucifer, with Angels, 1994

[4] Matthew 15: 21-28

[5] Romans 11:1

[6] 1 Thessalonians 4: 18