Oxford again today, but a very different occasion from last week. At St John’s New Hinksey, where he had been parish priest for ten years from 1981, we gathered to celebrate the solemn funeral Mass for Fr John Davis. Throughout my time at St Stephen’s House, John had taught Old Testament – and a great deal more. In particular, the sheer joy of being a priest, and the vocation to hospitality. The congregation in St John’s was a witness to his very varied ministry. So too were those in the Sanctuary. The first lesson was read by a French Monk, Dom Christopher Lesofski OSB, who had lodged with John while studying in Oxford. For the Ecclesiastes lesson, the reader was the Rev'd Andrew Brown, Minister of the Unitarian Chapel in Cambridge, who had studied the Bible under John at Harris Manchester College. The choir, which sang Fauré’s requiem most movingly, came from All Saints Highfield, where John had ministered during his retirement in Headington. The preacher was another old friend and former student of St Stephen’s House, Fr Charles Card-Reynolds FSJ, parish priest of St Bartholomew Stamford Hill.
As John had requested, Fr Charles’ sermon was not a eulogy, but a proclamation of the Gospel, calling us to pray for the departed. Fr Charles did, though, give us the wonderful picture of Fr John’s meeting with our Heavenly Father; who would be first to say to the other, “My dear”? For me, it recalled that most lovely of poems by an Anglican Divine, George Herbert's “Love bade me welcome”…
‘And know you not’, says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
And so did we; we shared the Eucharist in thanksgiving and prayer for John, and we met and talked over a great buffet. How he would have enjoyed it all! And who is to say he did not, and does not, with Angels, and Archangels, and all the Company of Heaven. Requiescat.
This picture of John came to me from Chris Gillibrand; John was reading from the Song of Songs (what else!) at Chris' wedding.