Today, I am in England to attend my uncle’s funeral.
Here are the opening and closing lines of what I plan to say.
There are moments, memories, that become images fixed in the mind. Perhaps the memory is not always 100% accurate, but what matters is not the detail, but the picture.
My picture of Owen is from August 1975, 33 years ago. He would have been 46 at the time. It was late afternoon and it was harvest time at Pibsbury. Steve was driving the blue Fordson tractor and Owen and Nigel were sat on the trailer behind. It was one of the flat four wheeled trailers. Owen sat at
the edge of the trailer, his feet hanging in the air, his hands resting either side of him. Quiet and reflective, he made a picture of perfect contentment.
It’s a picture I liked—a picture of work and rest; a picture of peace and activity; a picture of inner reflection and outward smiles and laughter . . .
. . . Can we go back to the picture of that warm August day thirty-three years ago? It’s a picture of Owen at work; Owen with his family; Owen surrounded by nature and the countryside he loved so much. It’s a picture that is very symbolic for our gathering here today.
Those who remember Grandad’s farm back in the 1970s will remember the
corn being cut with the binder and the sheaves being stood into stooks before being gathered onto the trailer to be brought down to the barns. The wheatsheaf is a symbol of the end of life, the corn has been cut, but it is also the symbol of new life, for the ears of wheat have the grains of new growth.
It is a picture that Jesus uses when he was talking to his friends. “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Death is not an end, but is an opening to new life.
We have a hand tied sheaf from Pibsbury—where Owen spent so many happy days on the farm—and when we come to the grave we will bury that wheat as a sign of faith that today is about death and about new life. The sheaf reminds each of us that a time comes for gathering in, but it is the Christian hope that in dying we spring into something new and something unimaginably greater.
At the end of a long day’s work, Owen has gone home, in peace and contentment. The trailer has rattled its way to a farm where there is no winter and where every day is like a warm afternoon in August.
The grain of wheat falls to rise again.