Priscilla’s sister Felicity phoned while we were at breakfast Sunday morning with the news that their mother had just died peacefully in her sleep. She was 95 and until recently when hospitalised with oesophageal cancer, respiratory infections, and injuries from a fall, had lived on her own in her own house. While we were – and are still – thankful that her suffering and struggle had not only come to an end, but have been replaced with a vital and peaceful life in the presence of Christ, it was still sad to know that this gracious woman who had given such love and been such an influence on us and our children had died. And it was not any easier to adjust to being only a couple of days away from seeing her had she remained alive long enough.
Priscilla’s Mum was a gentle, upright, determined, godly woman I have become very fond of, and a warm and caring mother for Priscilla who enjoyed a close bond with her. I’ve just come across a box of the letters Priscilla posted to her each week for most of our married life (until writing gave place to Skype phone calls) – kept because they were a link with her daughter on the other side of the world.
She had been evacuated from the Norfolk Coast as a teenager during the war, then served in British uniform with the Allied Commission in liberated Europe at the end of the war. Raised in the Strict and Particular Baptists, she married a young Christian optometrist who had seen service with the RMC in Normandy just after D Day. They set up home and practice in Harpenden where Priscilla and her sisters grew up in a close family in which their parents’ Christian faith and church worship were central. Priscilla’s mother knew and loved her Bible, was clear and discerning in doctrine, valued good preaching and hymnology, and lived quietly but confidently in Christ. During the last days of her illness she had been asking visitors to read favourite Bible passages including Revelation 21. We are so thankful to know that Christ’s redemptive love for her has reached its culmination in her welcome into his presence to a place and eternity prepared for her.
Through the last few days we’ve experienced quite a lot of emotional turmoil and physical tiredness. But through it all God has granted us a peace in the midst of anguish, and an assurance of his wise and gracious providence in the face of our unfulfilled hopes and plans. I have been particularly mindful of 2 Corinthians 12:9. This word from God to Paul in the face of his struggling weakness is true for us all. We can hardly want more than God’s grace sufficient for the moment. But God goes further – he works in the struggles and weaknesses to perfect us in Christ for Christ. I cannot honestly say I can echo Paul’s “delight” in verse 10, but I unhesitatingly echo the rest of his words, and can testify that God is presently gentle and encouraging in sustaining us. It is true: his grace is sufficient. Not because we have attained some level of spirituality that accepts what happens, much less that we have somehow mastered discipleship; but because the grace he gives through the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus does in fact sustain and shape us by his Spirit through his word. I am thankful both that that is true whether we experience it or not at any particular time, and that it is by that same grace we are presently experiencing his comfort.
The burial will be in Trumpington Church, Cambridge at 9:00 am on Friday 18 May, followed by a Thanksgiving Service at Diss Baptist Church, 102 Denmark Street Diss (Norfolk) at 2:00 pm. We are thankful that we can be there (by delaying our trip to Holland by 3 days - but flying there with Hannah who is able to come to the funeral).