The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Wisdom 3.1-5; Hebrews 10.19-25; Matthew 25.14-29
Friday 15 March 2019 will be forever a date etched into my memory, as so many dates nowadays are.
That morning I woke to the news on the radio of the terrible events at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and the slaughter of so many innocent people at prayer and then, when I looked at messages and emails that had come in overnight, I found one from Paul – except that it wasn’t from Paul it was from Josh on Paul’s email account asking me to call. I knew in my heart that something bad had happened – and of course it had. None of us here can really come to terms with Paul’s sudden and untimely death – it still seems ridiculous, unimaginable. We’d only seen him a few days before, in the vestry, here in this sanctuary, serving as he was so often serving.
And for you, Kathy, Brad and Josh, Anne and Alan, what we are feeling pales into insignificance compared with what you must be feeling as a family, as his family, as you come here to the Cathedral, his cathedral, today. We all want to hug you and we’ve all been weeping with you.
Paul Timms, the Head Verger, when he heard the news said to me that whenever he came back into the vestry after the 9am Eucharist on a Sunday and saw Paul sitting there with his almond croissant and coffee he knew everything was ok. Paul had that amazingly calm presence, he was as solid and dependable as he looked.
It can often feel like chaos behind that vestry door, people getting dressed, questions being asked, candles being lit, a thurible being stoked up, some folk trying to say their prayers and get their heads around what it is that they’re going to do and Comfort arriving with coffee and kisses for everyone, but Paul remained calm and measured and reliable and an absolute gift from God in the midst of it all.
Jesus tells lots of parables. He knew that stories carry a huge amount of truth in a way that we can all grasp and so he tells this story, the one we’ve just heard about a man entrusting his wealth to three slaves, of varying ability, and then arriving back, ready to hear what they’d done. But there’s a line in that gospel story that rings true when I think about Paul.
“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
It’s what the man says to those slaves who’ve done well. I am sure, I am confident, that God will say this to Paul, who as we’ve heard in the recollections of the family, wasn’t just good and faithful here at the Cathedral but in other parts of his life as well. He’s been remarkable and yet so modest, never one to boast of his own skills or his own life, but always ready to serve.
And Paul has been part of our life here for so long, since he arrived as a chorister and sang in the choir and then never really leaving us but doing his Christian duty here, in the sanctuary, making sure that the worship went well, making sure that other servers knew what they were doing so that what happens here is a glimpse, a reflection, an echo of what happens in heaven. Whether he was carrying the cross, swinging the incense, holding a candle, acting as a verger Paul did everything with care and professionalism and in an unfussy and calm way. He helped us glimpse the heaven that we now pray he will enjoy. And that is what our servers all do, enabling us to enter a heavenly sanctuary, to have one foot in the now and another stepping gently into eternity.
Our First Reading captures so much of what we felt as we first heard the dreadful news that Paul had died
‘their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;’
and then the writer says tremendous words of reassurance for each one of us
‘but they are at peace.’
That reading however ends with something that’s even more significant in Paul’s case.
‘God tested them and found them worthy of himself.’
Paul is that good and faithful servant, he has entered the sanctuary, he has served this place and served God so well; like all of us, he has been tested, but he has been found worthy. He receives his reward.
And we? We are left with the pain and the tears and the unbelief that such a sudden death brings, but left also with a sense of the privilege of having known Paul, and of calling him a brother and of having served with him and worshipped with him.
Kathy, words fail us at a moment like this. All we can offer is our love and the promise that we won’t forget Paul, just as God forgets none of us but holds him and will hold us all, in love, for all eternity.
May Paul rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.