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In memoriam,
Frederic McFarland

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Hallo again to all.

We suspect that most of our readers have walked through a lychgate before, some of us perhaps this Sunday on our way to or from worship. Lychgates are among the most quintessential parts of English church architecture, and from the 'green and pleasant land' they have been exported to many other places where Anglicans now live and pray. In its most basic form, a lychgate is a gabled entrance to a churchyard, with room enough for a group of clergy, pall-bearers and mourners to pause one last time on their way to a grave or funeral. If a burial service is conducted in one's parish church, the lychgate may be the place where that service begins in shelter from the sun or rain or snow. Many venerable lychgates have stood in silent churchward welcome to the living and the dead for centuries, in addition to lending their name to this curiously-named house-building company, and the most Anglican birdfeeder we have ever seen. Others have inspired poetry or served as the setting for wedding photographs and the beginnings of rogation processions.

Because they tend to lack the green space necessary for God's acre, churches in big cities—with some notable exceptions, like the Little Church around the Corner in New York City—do not often have lychgates. Until last week, urban Anglicans that we are, we had had more occasion to associate lychgates with rural churchly charm than with a pastoral role in the context of a Christian funeral. The burial service of Frederic W McFarland, at the lychgate of St Mary'sIn company with many of you, we walked on Tuesday morning through a lychgate in the mourning procession for a member of our staff. It was by no means our first time to pause underneath a lychgate, but it was the first time we noticed the striking power of some parts of the burial office as conducted there, with clergy and servers meeting the coffin in order to bear it in solemn pomp toward the chancel.

We did not need the lychgate's roof to hold off rain or snow, because the sky was as clear as we have seen it in weeks. Nor was the lychgate really necessary as a place for the strong pallbearers to pause in rest, as the procession was measured from bold start to sorrowful finish in feet rather than in miles. Instead, the gate offered a place for us to breathe and to collect ourselves as we gathered, in the officiating bishop's excellent words, 'not to deny death, but to defy the power of death' over those who are marked as Christ's own forever through their baptism.

In a potent, moving echo of that baptism, we watched the servers drape our friend's casket in a beautifully-wrought white pall, bright with the resurrection joy of a funeral conducted in Easter Week. Like the white clothes worn by new Christians, the pall called our minds simultaneously to the font and to that day when in Christian hope 'the saints triumphant rise in bright array' and where

they who with their Leader
have conquered in the fight,
for ever and for ever
are clad in robes of white.

With Alleluias still awkward on our lips from 40 days of being left unsaid, we started Frederic's funeral service basking in his baptism. But in its stone-and-wooden solidity, the lychgate told us that our surreal, early goodbye was no illusion. The gate, a symbol of ancient Jacob's vision of 'the house of God and gate of heaven', readied us far away from the comforting scent of lilies to hear the stark and true words we hope will someday be read over our own bodies.

For none of us liveth to himself,
and no man dieth to himself.
For if we live, we live unto the Lord;
and if we die, we die unto the Lord.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;
even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.

When next you pass by or through a lychgate, by all means drink in its churchly charm. If opportunity provides, consider helping to restore one that has fallen into disrepair. But think on your baptism, too, and the gate through which we all must pass into life eternal.

See you next week.

All of us here at Anglicans Online

Last updated: 30 March 2008 (Low Sunday)

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