A funeral address for Richard Spaul, 9 October
20 December 1940 - 29 September 2009
Today is immensely sad. We say goodbye (literally ‘God be with you’) to a man who was so special to all of us here, but particularly to you. And Sheila, Rachel, Jonathan and Philip; Michael and Joan, and the family – we do pray for you.
How does one speak of Richard?
Here was a man: a fully human person who lived life to the full. He was able, gifted and passionate. When he spoke, he conducted. He spoke with his whole body. There was no side to him. He was straight forward and direct, sometimes a bit too direct. He was a man of great integrity, someone who lived according to his convictions. I am not even sure if the word ‘compromise’ was in his dictionary.
Here was a man who loved this world: he was fascinated by it. He taught. He was the first to introduce computers into his school. He was a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. He loved gardening. He loved cricket. He loved singing (more recently, St Peter’s music group and the St Edmundsbury Male Voice choir were so special to him – take this opportunity to say thank you to those of you who made it possible for him to go to Estonia with you). He loved trains: he was a member of the Trix Twin railway club. On one of his better last days, he was sitting up planning a railway journey. He loved drama: whether harvest supper musicals in the past, skits at parish weekends, Open the Book (Remember him starring in the role of Cinderella, with one line that he repeated over and over again, ‘Alright’). He was also practical, helping with the first reordering here at St Peter’s, cutting the grass here and doing DIY – mainly on his children’s houses (I understand): I think you owe mum something! He was a gifted administrator: secretary of St Peter’s for over 30 years, working as treasurer with Just Traid for 9 years, and as administrator of the Hyndman Centre for 6 years. He was also remarkably strong willed.
The Psalm we had read says, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the Son of Man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly realms, and crowned him with glory and honour’
And we celebrate Richard because he was a man who – with all his failings and because he was honest enough to recognise his failings – lived with his face turned to God. He, and I suspect that this gets to the heart of Richard, recognised that this world was God’s world, and that all that we have been given comes from God. He knew he was dependent on God for life, for forgiveness, for mercy and for strength. He held to the word of God. He set up, I believe, what was for a long time the only bible study group in the parish. He prayed: and by that I do not mean the self-centred stuff that most of us call prayer: ‘The God bless me and mine’ prayer; but the God-centred prayer: the ‘Your name be glorified; Your Kingdom come; Your will be done’ prayers. And he trusted God, and he went on trusting God – even when life got very very difficult. At the prayer meeting, when the church met to pray for Richard after we had heard that Richard’s cancer had returned and it was only a matter of time before he died, he was sitting at the back. He suddenly spoke up and he said, ‘I’m trusting in Jesus’.
‘What is Man’: when we look at Richard we can glimpse the glory of human beings, and through them the glory of God. It was Irenaeus who said: “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive with their face turned to God”
In Richard, we can see what a very ordinary flawed human being can become when they choose to turn to Jesus: someone who prays, who trusts and seeks to obey, who loves creation, who fights for what is right and fair, who sings, who plays, who works, who serves, who laughs, who dreams.
‘What is Man?’ When Pontius Pilate brings out Jesus just before Jesus is crucified, he says – ironically – ‘Here is THE man’. But for the first followers of Jesus Christ there was no irony there. They realised that Jesus Christ really was THE man.
In the Bible, we have a record of a letter written by one of the first Christians. We are not exactly sure who he was or where the people he was writing to were. But the writer of what is called ‘The Letter to the Hebrews’ looks at human beings, at the mess that we make of creation and of our lives and the lives of other people; and he looks at how we are subject to sin and death.
And he recognises that – even those who live the fullest of human lives - are pale shadows of ‘THE man’ spoken of in Psalm 8: ‘You have put all things under his feet’.
But he does not despair. Because he recognises that Jesus Christ is THAT man, sent by God, the one who lived THE fully authentic human life, even though it meant that at the age of 33 he was nailed naked and helpless to a cross.
But because he was the one who died in obedience to God his Father, and for all of us, that was not the end. Not even death could keep him down. He was THE man. Three days later he rose from the dead. And God has put all things under his feet. And he promises that all who put their trust him will one day become fully like him.
Although Richard died at a relatively young age, 68, and the last 2 years of his life were at times pretty grim, he really was incredibly blessed.
He was blessed because he was surrounded by a family who loved him. He saw his children and a child of each of his children.
He was blessed because he had turned to THE man, put his trust in THE man, and had begun to live an authentic human life
And – up to now I’ve been using the past tense for Richard, but now I am going to use the present – he is blessed because he is now with THE man.
And one day THE man will return. Yes it is picture language because it will be the end of history as we know it, and because it is beyond our imagination: ‘Eye has not seen; ear has not heard, nor the human mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But when he returns, there will be a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth. His Kingdom will be established. And he will come with those who are with him, who love him, who are being made like him.
“Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)
And that, for Richard and for ourselves, is our certain and unshakeable hope.