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Sermon for the Funeral of John Townroe, July 2018

by Michael Ford last modified 01 Aug, 2018 02:50 PM

Bishop Nicholas preached at the funeral of Fr John Townroe in Warminster, 31 July 2018.

John 14:1-14 and 20:30-21:2

We come to give thanks for the life of Fr John Townroe, UJ Uncle John to family, a kindly formidable holy priest, teacher, counsellor and guide to many.

I am under instruction. John did not want me to preach about John Townroe. I was told to preach about the resurrection.

So here is what I want to say, said so eloquently by St Paul in Romans chapter 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Warminster venture, and Fr John Townroe’s life, were testimony to this.

The Gospel was that familiar passage from John 14, the beginning of the long farewell discourse in which Jesus said he is going to the Father and the disciples don’t understand him.

Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Farther except through me.”

It is followed by Philip asking, “Lord show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” You can hear the weariness of Jesus as he replies, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”

The disciples could be remarkably dense or wilful.

The last chapter of John’s Gospel reads like an afterthought. The Gospel clearly ends at the end of chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.30,31)

And then off we go again with chapter 21, the epilogue of a Gospel which also has a prologue.

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius: and he showed Himself in this way. Gathered there together with Simon Peter, Thomas called the twin, Nathanial of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.” (John 21.1,2)

They were back where it all started - “In my end is my beginning” - but only seven not twelve. These seven had not covered themselves with glory, not unlike students from King’s. Three times Simon Peter denied he knew Jesus. Nathaniel had asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?“ James and John the sons of Zebedee, the sons of thunder - what a pair! - who asked to sit one on his right and the other on his left, a question so embarrassing that Matthew tried to soften it and say it was their mother who asked. Mothers! Two are not named. And Thomas called the twin, ‘Doubting Thomas’, which is a bit unfair because he believed the resurrection at first sight, exclaiming “My Lord and my God!” without the need to touch the wounds of the risen Lord.

It’s as if John in his gospel is making a point that this community of the resurrection is made up of disciples who got things wrong, who know their need to be restored, and Jesus came among them. “I am the way, the truth and the life”. This is a love that will not let us go. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

John knew that people would say nice things about him. He was wise, sharp eyed, a perceptive guide.

He knew his need of God and he found God here in this Eucharist where Christ meets us and where we touch his body and blood as Thomas wanted but did not need to do.

John knew himself and his own needs. It was the human condition, the disciples’ condition.
Sr Carol has spoken a eulogy which will have evoked particular memories for all of us.

One who benefitted from knowing him as their spiritual director said he was, “The only person whom I knew to be in Full Union with Jesus Christ…. He lifted one up to God as no other could.”

He continued to care for those remarkable men who trained at King’s and came to Warminster. Some thought John was looking forward their annual reunion and retreat which ended on the Friday before he died; that he was hanging on until it had happened and then just let go.

I trained at King’s and knew Eric Abbot and Sydney Evans quite well, though truthfully they knew me much better. I had not met John Townroe until I became Bishop of Salisbury. All three were great men, great priests and great teachers and trainers of clergy. Fr John was a wise and insightful guide to me as bishop. He was honest before God, which is a quality rarer than you might think. It was a privilege to be with him and with Fr John you knew you were in in the presence of God.

In the lovely notes from the family, Mimi recalls visiting him in hospital, about 5 years ago. He was keen to share a prayer that he had been meditating on, and asked her to repeat these words of Bishop Joseph Hall in 1601.

O Thou who has prepared a place for my soul. Prepare my soul for that place.

It is what he wanted, what his life was about. He might almost have been too anxious, though it was undoubtedly what gave his life edge and made him special.

In Christ God who made us, loves us and redeems us. God knows our frailties and makes us new. We are here not because we are good but because we are loved. In this Eucharist we meet Christ here.

O Thou who has prepared a place for my soul. Prepare my soul for that place.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus to whom be glory now and for ever. Amen

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