I have a picture imprinted in my mind and heart of Helen, three weeks ago in Manila, in a swimming costume, sitting on a rocky ledge half way up a waterfall, with arms outstretched, and, to her great delight, making rainbows in the light of the sun and the spray of the water. She was at a beautiful retreat centre with the Servants team members, where she had a profound, intense and overwhelming experience of God’s love for her.
She described this as ‘knowing her own belovedness and as life-changing’. It was truly a deepening of her security in God. All the team members noticed a new, joyous vibrancy in her, radiating an inner peace, calm and serenity. No wonder her great delight in making rainbows.
We are all gathered here because she has touched our lives in one way or another, and I dare to say that she has made rainbows for us in our lives. For my wife Peggy and myself, the first rainbow, when she and Peter were married 24 years ago. This was followed by two other rainbows in the persons of Esther and Joseph. If all the stories of how she has impacted and influenced our lives were told, all the colours of the rainbow would be represented.
I appreciate and respect that some of you do not share our Christian faith, or have difficulties with it. Some of you are of other faith traditions or will have your own belief systems, but I hope you will be able to think of Helen and give thanks for her in your own way. I say this, because her strong faith was a central part of her life, undergirding who she was and what she did and gave to others throughout her life.
For Christians, central to our understanding of God and of humanity made in God’s image is another pair of arms stretched out, not in the sunshine and spray from a waterfall, but upon a cross with hands and feet nailed to it – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We know that he posed a threat to the established religious and political leadership at that time. They connived to get rid of him. For those who crucified him, that was the end of him and all that he stood for. Not so for the Christian. The fact that God raised him to life set the seal on his obedience to what he believed was God’s purpose for his life – saying no to sin and to all that defaces, debases and destroys human life – saying yes to God in the sacrificial giving of himself for the sake of mankind.
Through his resurrection a door has been opened into the life of the new age of which we get a foretaste here and now, and the assurance , in the magnificent words of St Paul, that ‘nothing in all creation, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
However, Christian faith is worth nothing, – is a mockery and self-delusion , if it does not lead to a transformed life and positive action in the present. This means reaching out to others with the love which we ourselves have received..
The passage in Isaiah about God’s judgement on pious religiosity and his demand for justice and care for the poor and the needy was very important for Helen. (Isaiah 58.1-12)
As we have heard, 18 years ago Peter and Helen responded to a call from Servants for a paediatrician for one year in Cambodia, a country devastated and traumatised beyond description by the evil madness of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The seeds were sown for Helen’s increasing involvement in Servants, of which we have heard. It is, however, a mark of her life that wherever they have been as a family, whichever school her children have attended and whichever church fellowship they have joined, she has been at the forefront in giving her support, organizational ability and encouragement.
I conclude with some words of Jean Vanier and St Francis of Assisi. Jean Vanier , the founder of the L’Arche community, where people with mixed abilities live together, sharing with, learning from and supporting one another, writes:
‘The first disciples of Jesus were attracted by him and sometimes shocked by him, but they let themselves be drawn little by little into the mystery of the Word made flesh. So, too, may we all let ourselves be attracted and shocked by Jesus and so discover what it means to be a friend of Jesus.
I have listened to the song which warmed and stirred my heart, opened up my intelligence, gave hope, meaning and orientation to my life with all that is beautiful and all that is broken within me, as well as meaning to this world of pain in which we live.
I want to sing this song, even if my voice is weak and sometimes wavers, so that others may sing it, that together we may be in the world singing a song which makes us channels of God’s peace, so that where there is hatred we may sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is despair, hope; where there is doubt, faith; where there is sadness, joy.’
Such was Helen’s life. May it be ours, too.
– Stephen Sidebotham, 10 February 2012