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Funeral procession of Pamela Bone, St George's Malvern. Photo: The Age 2008

Living with new gratitude for the gift of life

The Revd Dr Colleen O’Reilly (Monday 18 May)

Just when I thought I had the ageing thing nailed, the government intervened. I had been required to retire from parish ministry in 2019 because of my age, and I quietly enjoyed it when people said they couldn’t believe I was that old! But then, COVID-19 turned up and the government told ‘the elderly’, those over 70, to say home because we are in a most vulnerable group. Elderly is not a word I had associated with myself. But, I must admit I had already been thinking about my mortality before the spectre of dying in ICU, succumbing to the ravages of this virus on my aging body, suddenly became real.

I have beaten the ‘three score years and ten’ of biblical long life. I am in good enough health thanks to modern medicine, so why should there not be years yet to come? Please God, there will be. But we know neither the day, nor the hour… I have grandchildren whose lives I want to see unfold. I have another ministry. I have a writing project underway. I have plans for travel and leisure after years of parish ministry seven days a week.

But this virus has brought us up sharply against the reality that our days are always numbered. We don’t have tomorrow yet. As the psalmist often acknowledges, our lives are fleeting and in God’s hands at every moment. Of course, people don’t want to live with that awareness. Funerals these days often downplay or even deny the sorrow of a life ending. But surely, we who trust our lives to the God ‘who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus’ do well to learn a new sense of mortality. Not a morbid anxiety, but a new gratitude for each new day and a new readiness to be led by the ‘great Shepherd of the sheep’ along a path to transformed life, familiar to him, but as yet unknown to we who must one day follow.

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