The state funeral for the Honourable Jim Flaherty carried the shock of a too-soon goodbye. Just as an esteemed public servant steps aside for more time with family and work with the private sector, it was the sudden end of the story. Or was it?
Enter the spiritual life of our former finance minister, as articulated at Toronto’s St. James Cathedral, a place that is about much more than just dignified real estate close to the Bay Street that Mr. Flaherty so esteemed. This public funeral held a reminder that Christianity is not a private spiritual event. The afterlife spoken about extensively at the funeral is based on events that happened involving Jesus – events that were news and remain news, which is why all Christian funerals contain a curious mix of sadness, mourning and hope. Hope that Mr. Flaherty has found that view of heaven, which he himself spoke of when he recounted the beauty of heaven, as described by his own son John.
Mr. Flaherty was a warden at All Saints Anglican Church in Whitby, Ont. A warden is a key player in the leadership team around a parish priest, a role that includes oversight of church finances. When Mr. Flaherty served as Canada’s finance minister, few could summarize the complexity of fiscal realities he was dealing with, but we trusted that the facts presented were solid ground to stand on. There’s a parallel to be found in the centuries-old Scripture and the liturgy that were broadcast from Mr. Flaherty’s funeral.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,’ ” reads John 14:6, one of three heaven-based scriptures heard at Mr. Flaherty’s funeral.
“They are Christian people, both he and [wife] Christine have been nurtured in the church since their birth and this is an expression of their faith. We do this for rich people, for poor people, for famous people – it’s a wonderful leveller, an event like this,” said the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, dean and rector of St. James Cathedral, who helped compose the state funeral. “Lying there, he will be subject to the common destiny of all human beings. He is not alone.”
Common destiny changes when people actually believe the invitation of Jesus, and put their trust in that. It is a difficult set of facts to believe – the sacrificed blood of one man on a cross is divine, and it wipes away all debt we owe to a Holy Father God? The death of Christ and his resurrection from the tomb is a wild tale; it draws pathos and anger, it divides and unites, it causes confusion and hope. Our mind has trouble with it all.
Yet this is the belief that marks the hope we heard in Mr. Flaherty’s funeral. There is an ironic efficiency that this funeral preceded Easter, the holiday that marks the undoing of death. The budget hawk may be smiling from a heavenly accounting desk that we’re having a coast-to-coast refresher on a reality we keep in the back of our minds – the reality that there is a problem we all face that goes far beyond political issues of income splitting or balanced books, and that is the problem of mortality.
The truth of Easter reminds us that death does not have the final word. From the open table of Eucharist at Mr. Flaherty’s farewell, we were consoled: “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever” (Psalm 121:8).
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.
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