April 2017

The funeral of The Revd Richard Buckley, in the form of a requiem mass, brought to mind some words inscribed on a modest tablet in St Paul’s cathedral commemorating its architect, Sir Christopher Wren: “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice” – “if you seek his monument, look around you.” Fr. Richard’s monument was not the building we were in, but rather the gathering of people, family, parishioners, friends and colleagues who had come to give thanks for his life and to share in the sacrament through which we are all, living and departed, joined together in one communion and fellowship.

I only knew Richard for a little over a year, but that has been long enough to appreciate his quiet courtesy. The relationship between a parish priest and his predecessor or successor is not always straightforward, and he handled it with a delicacy which immediately put me at ease. He couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. Those to whom Richard had ministered in Wentworth and elsewhere over the years had good cause to be grateful, and the presence of so many of them on 15th March showed that they were.

That quiet courtesy which was so characteristic of Richard is sadly lacking in today’s world – and, sad to say, in today’s Church. It is not just a matter of temperament. The Tractarians (in whose tradition both Richard and I were trained for the ministry) set great store by “reserve.” They would have been most uncomfortable with the brash, unsubtle, “in your face” religion which now seems to be so prevalent. They would have been uncomfortable, not because they saw Christianity as cosy and undemanding, but because they saw strident forms of religion as doing violence to complex and often sensitive souls, and failing to reflect the courtesy of God himself as revealed in Jesus Christ. As Holy Week approaches it’s time to ponder anew the great mystery of the God who doesn’t force his love on us but simply offers it to us.

Two centuries before the Tractarians, George Herbert (1593-1632, poet and model parish priest), wrote a poem which speaks of God’s hospitality and the quiet courtesy with which he offers it. It would make a good preparation for our Maundy Thursday worship, when we go in spirit to the Upper Room to recall the Last Supper and commemorate the institution of the sacrament which binds us both to our Lord and, through him, to each other.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert