I’ve recentlybeen involved in two funerals of very elderly women members of our congregation. I’ve followed what has been our long-standing practice of putting a photograph of the deceased person on the front of the order of service. But what picture to choose? One showing them as they were in later life, or one taken when they were much younger? In the event, in both cases the respective families provided me with a photo taken when the person concerned was about to be married, in the 1940s.
There’s a tradition in Christian theology (a bad one, in my view) of emphasising the transience of human beauty, achievement and happiness, as if these things were worthless in the face of inevitable death. But is the real person the one we remember at a time of declining health and mental powers, loss of physical attractiveness, tetchiness and dependency? Why am I invariably moved when I see what someone looked like seventy years ago? The whole of life lies before them. The eyes are bright with hope and expectancy. Whatever slings and arrows will afflict them over the decades, at that moment they are poised on the threshold of fulfilment.
I guess I’m moved by sadness at the fading of all things, but also by the thought that what I’m seeing as I look at the picture of vibrant youth, is, in a miniscule way, an approximation to the way God sees us, an anticipation of the transformed life which is the gift of him who makes all things new.