The old lady in a wheelchair held a sprig of rosemary between her clasped hands. She was very still. She had been married in a church only a mile or so away 60 years previously. She greeted her many friends with a smile which was almost imperceptible but contained great warmth. The gathering was about to attend the funeral of her husband.
‘Rosemary for remembrance?’ I asked their daughter. ‘Yes’, she said, ‘I was lucky to find a plant in bloom this morning.’
An ancient tradition. I have never seen it observed at funerals before – just a small twig of the herb from a garden, symbolising and, I believe treasuring, the memories of a long lifetime together. It is, indeed, older than the Book of Common Prayer Order for the Burial of the Dead, much of which was used with conviction and attention today by the priest, almost certainly a retired vicar, slightly donnish and patrician, and absolutely sure of touch. He made the Prayer Book words new and St Paul’s promise of resurrection live. I have never attended a funeral service to compare with this, either in a church or crematorium – where this was held.
As the clergyman spoke, the old lady’s gaze was gently on her husband’s coffin. In her mind’s eye she may have looked back to their wedding day 60 years ago, and to their many years of hard work on the land. If she were to see this post she might well object to the word ‘old’ – not out of vanity but because what was there today in her and the husband we mourn, was rich and present life and love. It really was.
May St Paul’s promise be valid for all of us and may she be comforted.