“People thought he was the caretaker.” Sandy told me this of Mike as we were sat in his room at hospital a few days before he died.
It was something to do with his demeanour, maybe he didn’t always look like someone who was a head of department or year, yet he was and as a teacher there are I’m sure many who owe him a great deal as do we here at St. Mary’s.
I didn’t know him that well, sadly, but I did spend a little bit of time with him and soon realised what a charismatic man he was one of those people who drew people to him and enabled others to fulfil their potential.
Liz has spoken of some of the different strands in his life, working, at home and in his spare time. Mike has led a rich life.
The last few weeks have difficult for him, Sandy and the rest of his family particularly. A holiday in Greece was soon followed by the discovery of a brain tumour. It has seemed all the more difficult for us because Mike was such a fit man, he loved to run.
That’s why in part at least I chose our reading from Isaiah ‘they shall run and not be weary.’ Strange that for runners know what it is to be weary. Mind you as Liz has reminded us Mike had an ability to keep talking amidst weariness when for others words ran out.
The reading also holds the weariness of life alongside ‘the everlasting God’. In life we know something of this weariness and the experience of God’s presence with us.
We’re wearied because there are things we struggle to understand, the brittle harshness of life and the depth of sadness we know.
Being a priest means you come close to that sadness more often than others might and so this role often reminds day after day that life is fragile and precious and that we are to live as fully as we can and make the most of the opportunities that are before us.
Mike it seemed to me did just that, he made full use of the talent God gave him and in so doing has taught us much in all kinds of ways.
Yet alongside the weariness, there is also the experience of God’s presence, the everlasting God whose love was made real for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Are you the caretaker?” is a tale of mistaken identity that finds echoes in Christ’s life. For he too was not recognised for who he was, before and after his resurrection and even today. Mary, you remember, thinks he is the gardener that first Easter Morning. Yet when he calls her name, she recognises him.
It’s easy to dismiss the Christian faith because it doesn’t give us all the answers, yet Christ calls us by name, invites into a life giving relationship through which we grow and learn and become more the people God calls us to be.
Mistaken identity also made me think too of how I’ve met something of Christ in Mike, of course Mike wasn’t perfect nor would he claim to be, but he, as we all do in our own unique way reflected in his life something of Christ’s image to the world in the life he has lived. Maybe it was in that charismatic smile or when with that twinkle he would look you in the eye, there was something of Christ in Mike.
But to return to Isaiah’s words again for they also remind us that in life sometimes there are times to wait. Something Mike, Sandy, Liz and Matt and the rest of the family became accustomed to these last weeks, waiting for news or results, that waiting is difficult.
Faith too has an element of waiting, waiting on God. In a world of instant communication and news that waiting is difficult too, frustrating even yet Isaiah reminds us that we don’t wait in vain for ‘those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.’ .
The long distance runner knows, you cannot run a marathon on an occasional jog you have to put in the miles training as you wait for the race.
Faith is seldom about flashes of light and inspiration but about slowly and sometimes painfully waiting on God as we let our lives be fashioned more deeply by love.
Its about entering into a mystery, into a relationship with the living God who is revealed to us in Christ, in each other but also in all kinds of ways, something Mike likely knew for himself.
From the sheer joy of running when you feel like you could break the four minute mile. To the beauty of music that lifts our souls.
From the joy of watching a well-crafted goal (something that’s been rare for us Leeds fans) to the love and kindness we encounter in the relationships we have.
From the majesty of creation that we see as we look around the world, to the bread and wine broken at this altar mysteriously transformed into the body and blood of our risen Lord.
These and so many other ways give us hints that there is more, that despite the mysteries, the confusions, the frustrations, love and beauty will prevail that a new and perfect song will be heard.
Mike shared in this sacred meal week by week here at St. Mary’s. The bread and wine of the Eucharist gives substance to our hope, help us to ‘taste and see’ that the Lord is gracious and that however life might make us think otherwise, there is always more, there is always hope.
This meal is one sometimes described as a foretaste of what is to come when we reach our end and see the beauty of God, not in glimpses or hints but with eyes opened, hearts renewed in that place where there is ‘no mourning or crying or pain’ as the writer of the Book of Revelation puts it.
That’s our hope and prayer for Mike, that having journeyed through this world, having served his neighbour in all kinds of ways, having loved his beloved family and friends, having used his time and talents in love and service to the glory of God for the good of all in this place and elsewhere, he now sings a new song.
When Mary didn’t recognise Jesus, it was Jesus speaking her name that opened her eyes.
This morning we hope and pray that Mike heard his name called and is home.
We shall miss him but pray
Eternal rest grant unto Mike, O Lord
And let light perpetual shine upon him
And may the faithful departed through the mercy of God. Rest in peace.