Saturday, April 28, 2007

It is Accomplished.

Today, the people of Alcester bade farewell to the Reverend Richard Dobell... as I said in an earlier post, he was perhaps the town's favourite adopted son.

I wanted to record my thoughts from the day, both for personal memory and on the off chance that anybody who couldn't make it on the day who stumbles upon my blog... has the opportunity to get a feel for the events as they happened.

A requiem service had been held the previous evening, which I attended. I almost didn't get there on time, but fortunately I experienced a minor miracle (God quite literally fiddled some traffic lights). We shared communion and poignantly, I was told that the amount of wafers used tallied exactly with the number of people present - the bishop taking the service did not have to consume any extra. During that night, Richard's body lay in state.

I decided to get to the church early this morning... rumour had it 1,000 mourners would attend and having known Richard as a friend of my family since about the age of 10... I wanted to make sure I was inside the building, should it get busy. With about an hour to go, people flooded in and packed the church out... standing room only.

Shortly before 11am, the muffed bells stopped ringing and the Rector - David Capron, read a personal address from the bishop. There was then silence for two minutes.

After the first hymn, there was a reading from the apocryphal book of The Wisdom of Solomon. some people might frown at that because it isn't in most translations of the Bible. However it was markedly poignant because it addressed ideas that many skeptics present in the room, might have been considering:

"But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.

For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality

Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;

Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect."
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-5, 9

The first thing to touch me personally was the next reading. I had felt in my heart God saying "Do not be anxious, do not let your heart be troubled" about a week and a half ago... about various things in my life - sadly I had not been good at that... but the reading from John 10 started with the second part of that phrase... and so I was reassured that God had not abandoned me to be angst ridden psyche.

The next part of the service was the eulogy, given by Reverend Andy Shearn (who was also the former headmaster at Alcester Grammar School, where Richard taught).

He did a great job.

Nearly all his words were taken from personal observations of Richard at school, or from his wife Jan... and much of it was made up of Richard's own words at various assemblies. Richard's spirit was eloquently captured in everything that was said. In a previous post I said of Richard:

He never took himself too seriously but always made sure the seriousness behind the message came across. He always left the stage leaving people with something to chew over... but never gave it to them in a painful manner.

Death it seemed, proved no exception to this. People were laughing at some of the more humorous anecdotes and warm memories... and yet equally, there were moments of challenge. Richard, just before Easter had spoken of Christ's suffering.

"The trouble with resurrection, is that you have to die first."

He had recounted the pain that Jesus went through prior to the first Easter Sunday... and then he had told the students gathered the reason why:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16
It seems deeply relevant to me, that Richard shared in Christ's Passion in a special way. By openly talking about these things, he then demonstrated them. He was a man who genuinely wanted the best for the people he met in his daily life, and for the students who learned under his tutelage. He was passionate about his beliefs and in his death, he found away to demonstrate the importance of that faith to many people. Reverend Shearn repeated the challenge that Richard had given during that speech... that Christ had gone through so much for all of us, so that we could be reconciled with god... and all that was required of us was that we accept it and believe. Richard's question was simply:

"Do you believe?"

I wonder how many will have asked themselves that very same question simply because of Richard's testimony in life and death? To see a man meet the end of his physical life, absolutely certain about his eventual destiny (not out of arrogance but out of blessed assurance), surely that must have inspired people.

We then sang "O Jesus I have promised". The first verse raised a personal smile for me... because when we sang the line "I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side", all I could see was the picture I had described to you the other day: Richard clad in tin hat, dustbin lid and bent sword whilst preaching on the full armour of God. Then I nearly choked up in verse 4 and here's why:

O Jesus, thou hast promised
to all who follow thee
that where thou art in glory
there shall thy servant be

The reason I nearly lost it was because it was those words that I had shared with you on Saturday, when writing about Richard and Selwyn Hughes being men who were still very much alive in the presence of God... and as I said, I don't believe in coincidence. I have felt very recently that the veil between Heaven and Earth has drawn thin indeed. In the past I have believed and known about life after death... but at the moment I feel it. It seems very much to me as if a window has been left open and I can actually hear the party going on in the unseen room next door.

After the prayers and a rousing rendition of "Thine Be the Glory" of which I am sure Richard would be proud, we sat down and listened to a cheerful rendition of "In an English Country Garden", a tune that Richard often played on the piano at our house. One couldn't help but share a bittersweet smile as the music played.

Finally the coffin was led out, followed by the family... as the church organ rippled gloriously through a plethora of lively and swift chords. Testimony to a wonderful musician, it seemed that even the ancient keys and pedals of that instrument, that for so long had shared an almost symbiotic relationship with Richard when he had been organist... wanted to grieve and say farewell in their own way... the only way they knew how - in awesome and wonderful symphony.

The full scale of the event was revealed upon leaving church. Not only was the churchyard full to bursting, but people lined the High Street as far as the eye could see. They had come to say farewell to a deeply loved and wonderful individual... who has returned to the God who graciously gave him to us - undeserving as we were of such a blessing.

Jesus Christ, despite having his years cut short by crucifixion, lived a full life and in the end he had done everything he was supposed to... this is one of the reasons he cried out "It is accomplished." So despite Richard's years being cut short, I recognise that his life was a fulfilled one... and that he did what I believe he was supposed to do (how many of us I wonder, can say the same of ourselves?), that is why I gave my post the title of Jesus words on the cross "It is accomplished."

You may be interested to know that the full text of the eulogy for Richard Dobell is now up at the St Nicholas website... and you can find it by following the linked text in this sentence..

Rest in Christ Richard - well done good and faithful servant!

And as you said so many times to so many of us on so many occasions...

"Peace be with you."


  1. Anonymous5:17 pm

    Pastor Nick, perhaps the time is coming to trade the keyboard for a microphone; the computer for a pulpit. You've been through so much lately and I just want you to know: you are an inspiration of faith, a teacher of life-wisdom, and an example of our 'real and practical' Lord Jesus. God bless you my friend. - Jon

  2. Anonymous9:43 pm

    I miss him so much. I still can't believe he has gone.

    I hope, I so desperately hope he was right about it all. I find it too hard to belive myself, but if anyone deserves it to have been true, it is him.


  3. Anonymous. It's probably unlikely you'll read this if you were just passing through. However....

    All I think I can say in response is that I share his beliefs... and that I truly feel he was trying to convey that belief, certain hope and deep conviction to the people who knew him... both in life and death.

    I'm here if you want to talk further... you can always email me if you don't want it to appear here.

    I sincerely hope and pray you find the comfort and company you need at this time.

    God bless


  4. Anonymous1:46 pm

    He always had peace. I don't have that.

    I want to know what happens next. I can't believe it is all for nothing here, but don't have any answers about an alternative. The whole thing feels like an exam I didn't know I had so haven't revised for.

    If I could speak to him again now, I'd ask him how he was so sure. Maybe he could explain it so that I could understand.

    I can't bear the thought that he is just... nowhere.



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