Address at the Funeral of C. Lionel Windsor
28 Nov 1916 – 18 Feb 2008
Based on Psalm 46Lionel Windsor Jnr, 21 June 2008 St Stephen’s Anglican Church Kurrajong
As far as I can tell, I am now the only remaining Lionel Windsor in Australia, and I am so proud to own the name of my grandfather. Grandpa wanted his funeral to have words of encouragement, words of life. When he died, he owned and cherished the Bible our family gave him on Fathers’ Day, 1988. It was heavily used, read and annotated. Grandpa himself suggested that Psalm 46 should be used in the service, and it is my privilege to speak to you words of encouragement from this Psalm this morning.
The Psalm is a song about a city. A city that is unshakeable, calm and unmoved. All around the city there is confusion, chaos and turmoil: a tottering creation, the earth itself quaking, mountains falling into the heart of the sea, oceans roaring and foaming. There are also enemies at war with the city, surrounding the city and battering against its walls. But the city remains stable, steady, firm, solid, permanent, immovable, strong; a fortress that cannot be shaken, despite the frenzied turmoil going on outside it.
Indeed, not only is the city steady and unshaken, it is a peaceful city, a city full of joy and life amidst the chaos outside, a city with a river whose streams of life make it glad and bring life to its inhabitants, a city that brings joy to others too.
Now just for a moment, you might think the Psalm was speaking about my Grandpa, Lionel Snr. Many of you will know only too well the turbulent events that battered against his life. You will know some of the chaos and turmoil he experienced, and you will know how he carried himself in the midst of that chaos. You will know his constancy, his warm and gentle dignity, his stability, his deep strength, like the unfailing city of the Psalm. More than that, you will know the joy and gladness that he brought to the lives of others. All his life, his strength was a source of strength and firmness for countless others.
But then you only need stop for a moment to see the jarring note of discordance. For despite the strength, despite the firmness of more than nine decades of life, Grandpa is no longer here to give us that strength, is he?
Indeed, this Psalm is about the shaking of the unshakeable. Verse 2 speaks of the earth itself giving way. It’s about firm things, strong things, things that you can never imagine moving; falling, shaking, tottering and trembling. It’s about the world falling apart. It’s about Tsunamis that reach to the top of Bowen Mountain. It’s about the great empires and nations of the earth toppling and crumbling. It’s about the things in life we may think are firm and solid, failing; whether it’s a house, a bank account, a business career; whether it’s those deep friendships that have seen us through thick and thin; whether it’s those family ties that often seem the bedrock of our identity; whether it’s life itself; whether it’s the strength of the human spirit, even one as strong as Grandpa’s. It seems so firm and strong, doesn’t it? Yet here he is in front of us, in this box, shaken, broken. Death has overcome even a life as firm and stable and life-giving as Grandpa’s.
Yet this Psalm speaks of a city that remains firm and solid even when all else is shaken. What is the strength of the city? What makes it different from the mountains and the earth and all those other seemingly unshakeable things? It is the presence of God.
The presence of God. The inhabitants of this city do not sing here about the glory of the city walls or beauty of its gates or the firmness of its foundations. What do they sing? God is our strength and refuge. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. The God of Jacob is our fortress. The LORD almighty is with us. The only final comfort, the only unshakeable fortress that we can rely upon—it’s not the earth or the mountains, it’s not kingdoms or nations, it’s not in family or friends, it’s not in the power of the human spirit.
The only fortress that will not fail us is God’s presence: God himself. God is our strength and refuge.
And while at first, the city seems to be Zion, the mountain on which stood Jerusalem, the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells; this Psalm is not even about Zion, ultimately. It is about the presence of God. The stable, steady, firm, solid, permanent, immovable, strong presence of God himself. Which stays secure when everything else is made to totter and shake.
What shakes you? What rocks your world?
When Jesus Christ heard the news of the death of his dear friend Lazarus, he came to the tomb where they laid him. And when he saw the mourners, the sister of Lazarus and his friends and countrymen weeping, John’s gospel, chapter 11 verse 33, tells us that Jesus himself was deeply moved in spirit and shaken.
When the apostle John reports that Jesus was shaken, the word he uses in the original language is exactly the same word used 4 times in this Psalm 46. It’s the word used to describe the shaking of the world, the world torn apart. The shaking of the earthquake, the shaking and foaming and tossing of the waves in a storm, the shaking of the mountains, the shaking of the nations and kingdoms—when Jesus came to his dear, dead friend, and saw the grief and pain of loss that death produced (which in its own way foreshadowed Jesus’ own coming death), his heart gave way like the earth. He shook like foaming waters.
In one way this shows Jesus’ care, his love, his sympathy, doesn’t it? It shows how Jesus entered in to our sorrow, took part in the grief and loss in our world. Jesus is not aloof or distant from our grief in the face of death. He knows it all too well. And that means he can sympathise with each one of us today.
But it also shows us the profound wrongness, the awfulness, of death. For Jesus does not shake at earthquakes or tsunamis or the armies of nations. He shakes when faced with the great enemy, the great power that itself shakes and tears the world apart. He shakes at death.
Jesus doesn’t just sit back and accept his beloved friend Lazarus’ death as something right and normal, does he? Jesus reflected and experienced what the Bible tells us throughout its pages—that death is wrong. Death, in fact, is the ultimate result of God’s judgment on our world, and on us, for our willful disobedience against him. Death is a tragic reminder of the judgment that each one of us deserves before our holy God; the God who lifts his voice, and the earth melts. And this is why Jesus was so shaken by death—for he understands that it is the obvious and definite sign of a world gone wrong and people out of relationship with their creator. Worse even than crumbling mountains and falling kingdoms.
And yet if you know the rest of the story, you know that that is not all that Jesus did. You know that he did not shake so as to fall. For he had already spoken to his friend, Lazarus’ sister Martha.
And Jesus had said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
‘I am the resurrection and the life’, says Jesus. There will be a day, a last day, when there will be a resurrection of humanity. When God will once and for all deal with the terrible problem of death and judgment in our world. Where we will have a new, transformed body that will live a new, better, fulfilled life in a new creation, when God makes the whole world new. A place of joyful reunion with other believers, with no more crying or mourning or pain or death. And like a city, solid, secure and living in the face of death, Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. You will only find this security, this resurrection and life, in me, says Jesus.
The Easter story tells us how powerful Jesus’ life was, doesn’t it? Jesus died, and yet he rose to life again. He rose from the dead ahead of time. He came back in a new, transformed body. Death overcomes us all, but death could not overcome Jesus. He is alive. And even more than that, he gives life. He is like city from whom streams of living water flow. The river whose streams make glad the inhabitants of God’s city. Because God is with him. God is with him permanently. Jesus is that city that remains stable, steady, firm, solid, permanent, immovable, strong. Strong enough to provide streams of life. Even in the midst of our greatest enemy, even when faced with assaults from death itself. Jesus is strong enough to bring physical, bodily, life to our mortal bodies. God is with Jesus permanently. He is the man of whom it is absolutely and irrevocably true: God is with him, he will not fall. The LORD Almighty is with him
Grandpa once said something that I’ll never forget. He said: ‘I don’t know how I would have got through my life without a faith in Jesus’. I witnessed that faith in Jesus, that trust in Jesus as a firm and immovable fortress in his life becoming more and more of a reality as his life went on. It was God’s presence with Grandpa, through Jesus, that made him who he was. That gave him the strength and stability to live and to love others. God was his strength and refuge. And we rejoice with him that he now sees that confidence on Jesus vindicated. That he is with his Lord and God now, with a life that can never be shaken.
The Psalm here issues us with a command—did you notice it? It’s there in verse 10
‘Be still, and know that I am God’
The call to ‘be still’, is not a call to quiet contemplation. At this point it’s not a call to sit in a calm place and reflect. That may be a good thing to do, but that’s not what it’s saying here. There is an urgency to this command to be still. It’s a command that is uttered in the midst of earthquakes, giant waves, an approaching enemy army. It’s a word shouted out in the face of the urgency of our own approaching death
It’s a call to stop! Be still! Stop! Know that I am God! Stop shaking. Stop quaking and surging. Stop fighting, stop panicking. Be still and know that I am God! Stop placing your confidence in those other things that seem secure but will all ultimately fall. Stop placing your final hope in family. Stop placing your final hope in friendship. Stop placing your final hope in the strength of the human spirit, or human love, or human power. Be still, stop—and know that God is God. And nothing else is God.
One of Grandpa’s favourite verses came from the book of Ecclesiastes:
‘He has set eternity in the hearts of man’
It means that we know and long for eternity, that we are not satisfied with death. Death is one of those areas where the statistics are 100% against us, isn’t it? Each one of us will end up in one of those boxes one day, no exceptions. And nothing at all in this life can stop it. Yet it is still wrong. Death is 100% normal. Yet we also know death is also 100% wrong. God has set eternity in our hearts.
But Jesus promises that if you trust him, he will grant us everlasting, full life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Grandpa wanted me to speak words of encouragement, words of life. And so I must ask you: Have you stopped? Do you know that God is God? Is God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ your strength and refuge? Is he your ever-present help in trouble? Is he with you, and is he your fortress? For if so, we will not fear, though everything else in life may give way
Jesus said […], “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”