Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of Sergent Matthew Telford:
Once again this historic church embraces a family and a community drawn together by the loss of a treasured loved one. Drawn together in sadness and sorrow in a place that even on days like this dares to speak of hope. Drawn together to mingle words of remembrance with words of faith and of the possibility that there is more to life than we can possibly imagine.
The crowds gathered around the church today, as they gathered on Saturday when Matthew’s and Jimmy’s coffins arrived in Grimsby, speak powerfully of the deep respect that this community has for those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.
Yet there was far more to Matthew than his military service – he was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and part of a family and of friends who treasured the life he shared with them. Family and friends who loved and cherished Matthew, and the pain and emptiness they are living with now is a symptom of the deep love they have for Matthew – a love that will not let them go and which Matthew’s death does not in any way diminish.
As we share this moment with Matthew’s family – with Kerry, Harry, Callum, Ron, Cheryl and Eleanor – giving thanks with them for Matthew’s life, love and service – we need to be wary of the armchair strategists who, informed only through the press, pontificate on the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Afghanistan. Matthew and his brave comrades died as they were sharing their skills with the Afghani people so as to bring stability, law and order to a troubled land, and such stability, law and order are fundamental elements for peace. In the three weeks since we heard the tragic news of their deaths, Jesus’ words have been much in my prayers for Matthew and his comrades “How blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called Sons of God”.
Bringing peace, working for peace is a costly thing and the cross of Jesus is a symbol of that cost. Today as we give thanks for Matthew’s life and love, as we stand alongside his family in their grief, as we pay our respects to a brave man – we commit and commend Matthew to all the rich possibilities of the God we have discovered in Jesus Christ – a God who yearns for peace in all the complexity of this world.
This church, like all churches, is full of the symbol of the cross on which Jesus died, because it is the cross of Jesus which points us to hope – a hope that there is more to each of us than our biology, a hope that amidst all the darkness of the conflicts in this world, a hope that amidst all the evil that drives people to murderous deeds and callous indifference – amidst all this, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, a love which is eternal and which will not let us go. It is into this love which we commend and commit Matthew today – a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and a comrade – a peacemaker among those whom Jesus calls “sons of God”.