January 1973 - November 2005. The cold, austere, country church was populated by Simeon's peers and his parents' generation, sombred by the apparent waste of such a young life. The memorial service included testimony to his love of drink, yes, but love of life as well. Had we been foolish enough to hope to understand why he committed suicide, we would have been disappointed, departing only with the memory images of a mother, father and stepfather brave enough to throw something of a party in the wake of tragedy.
Behind most statements there are theological presuppositions and it is worth pondering what they are before speaking oneself. So I found myself exploring what sort of a service this broadly agnostic family had put together to remember a son who made few nods to God. As we filtered in, beautiful booklets were given out, each bearing his colour photograph and the title: “Spirit of Simeon.”
After a thoughtful, dignified introduction and prayer, the priest bade us sing “Love divine, all loves excelling…changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place…” Five friends offered tributes to Sim's zest for fast living and the quality of his company, all as if that Spirit of Simeon lived on somehow, before we sang Going home to a well-known tune from Dvorak's New World Symphony.
We continued with John 2 - water into wine, the transforming Jesus, God's extravagant generosity - before a thoughtful sermon, the Lord's Prayer, and another great hymn of praise.
Before the service, I sighed inwardly at the final verse in the booklet - Mary Frye's Do not weep for me (www.spiritdove.com/g_donotweepkforme.htm) - and wondered how the priest would handle its pantheistic overtones. He did, skilfully pointing out the difference between beauty evoking memories of our loved one, and the equation that the poem suggests: “I am the softly falling snow, the graceful rush, the birds that sing…”, with the conclusion “Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there. I did not die.”
So we had objective Christian praise; we had reiterated expectation or was it just hope that Simeon has gone through God's open door into a new and better life, whence lies peace and healing. And we had the Spirit of Simeon, roaming free, present to us now if only we could perceive it. Thus a pick and mix spirituality deals with death.
Yet I wanted to say; “He did die!” But so did Jesus, and if Simeon's choice was eternal life, he will also know the same resurrection. Our hope is not anchored in optimism, or shallow logic (that there just has to be more to life than this), it's anchored in historical fact and the Father's promise, made possible by the son and made real by the Holy Spirit. And not only in a never-never future beyond this life, but in the here and now if we choose.
I hope I will get the chance to say that to Simeon's family, in due time and with due sensitivity.
Yours in Christ