5 April – Open your eyes

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Funeral of Suzanne Yanko

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 13:8-13

When we gather like this at a time like this, it is to tell not one story but two. The one is the story of our experience of each other, of which we have just heard a little today (and it is always too little). This is our experience of Suzanne. The other story is the story of God’s experience of us, to which we now turn.

These two stories are intertwined in a relationship which can be treated in all manner of ways. Today, taking the lead from what we have heard from the psalmist and St Paul, we’ll consider this intertwining through what it is to know and to be known, to see and to be seen, to love and to be loved.

Psalm 139 is one of the most intimate passages of the Jewish Scriptures, in which the poet marvels at his very self and at God’s knowledge of that self.

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

13 …For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Alongside the poet, we heard from St Paul, who is not often accused of poetry! Yet if not aesthetically, he poetises to present a particular grammar of our being, the way in which things should be made relative to each other:

I know, but only in part; yet I shall know even as I am now fully known.

This is part of Paul’s famous “love” chapter, more often heard at weddings than funerals – which is to say that it is easily sentimentalised. But Paul is never sentimental. He writes to a community with a poor track record in the love stakes, and he is wrestling with the difficulty of day-to-day love in the light of the perfected love he believes God has shown: Now I know, I see, I love, only in part; then (in what we might vaguely call “the life to come”) I will know fully, in the way that I am fully loved and known by God even now in my imperfect knowing.

To leave it there would be merely to have presented some mystical subtlety, and perhaps a mystifying one, at that. But, with some work, we can bring all this home as the very heart of what makes us tick, and what has brought us together here today.

In a gathering like this it seems obvious that we focus on our knowing and seeing. We knew Suzanne and we tell the story of what we saw in her.

What is less obvious and less likely to be reflected upon is that Suzanne knew us and that, with her death, that knowledge is ended, and we are diminished. We say sometimes of those who die that they were “a part” of us. But this can be sharpened. They have sustained us in their knowledge of us and love for us.

These days, we are taught that we are free agents, active subjects, doing what we wanna do, being what we wanna be! But in reality, we are truly ourselves, not to the extent that we know and love as we would like, but to the extent that we are known and loved as we need. To put it too strongly, but also surely correctly: others’ knowledge and love of us creates us and sustains us. If you doubt this, consider a conversation with someone who has survived all his family and friends and now knows the living death of not being known, not being seen. Or perhaps ask an asylum seeker in a country which tries very hard not to see them.

If it were indeed the case that being known and loved matters as much as knowing and loving, it might turn our lives around. For it would come to be that the well-being of others rests on our knowledge of them, our love of them. Every breath we take would be less to prolong our own life than to make it possible for us to continue to enrich the lives of others. The life which is remembered at our own funeral would then be less the experiences we collected, and more our having been experienced as a source of life and love, a kind of co-creator of those who gather after our death to remember us.

We are here today because Suzanne has been such a co-creator of each of us in her knowledge and love of us, in her seeing us.

Yet we are imperfect lovers – imperfect creators – partly because love is not always easy and we would rather not, and partly because we are mortal and our capacity to love simply runs out.

St Paul wrote precisely because of this. Yet he looks forward to when we will see and love each other as God sees and loves us – comprehensively, perfectly.

To be seen in this way might feel a little creepy to us who live in an age tending towards almost ubiquitous surveillance. But to say that God sees us is not to say that God is “watching” us. God’s gaze does not monitor but sustains.

That God sees us is good news if being seen, and known, and loved, is the source of all life.

This is all the church means when it speaks of a “life to come”. With us, love and knowledge come to an end. But with God, they do not. And so, in God’s unfailing and life-giving knowledge of us, we do not end, either.

If we die, it is but the blinking of God’s eye,
and then we will be seen,
and known,
and loved

Until such time, open your eyes, and see, and love.