Homily preached at the funeral of Martin John Richard How MBE (1931-2022), Croydon Minster, 23rd August 2022
Isaiah 12 Sing praises to the Lord for he has done gloriously
1 Peter 1.3-9 You are receiving the outcome of your faith; the salvation of your souls
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Last night the body of our dear friend, mentor, inspiration, Organist Laureate and brother in Christ, Martin, was brought into this church where it has rested overnight.
Martin was received into the church with confidence in God, the giver of life, who raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
The coffin was sprinkled with water recalling Martin’s baptism and we prayed that, as Christ went through the deep waters of death for us, so might he bring us, with Martin and all the redeemed, to the fullness of resurrection life.
It is hard to believe that we are here today, saying goodbye to Martin and commending him to God, because - despite his long years - life, vigour and creativity shone out of him to the very end, rooted in his faith and hope and love.
Receiving Martin’s body last night, and offering the Eucharist for him, mirrored for us on earth what we believe to be the reality of heaven, that Martin will be received body and spirit into the courts of heaven to be welcomed into the kingdom of his Lord and ours and find his place at the Heavenly Banquet.
There he will await the Resurrection of the dead and the promise of the First Letter of Peter, of the outcome of his faith, the salvation of his soul.
Martin was one of those people of whom it is easy to speak warmly, to idolise and wax lyrical.
And thanks be to God, we spoke of him like that while he was alive; for he was kind, warm hearted, encouraging and a sheer joy to be with, utterly self-deprecating and humble; none of which was an affectation.
Martin’s character was forged in experiences that tested him - his mother’s death, his father’s high profile as a Bishop, his experience of boarding at Repton, his time in National Service – but he endured because of his faith formed in the loving heart of his family and sustained by being part of church communities, latterly this one here at Croydon Minster and amongst colleagues not least at the Royal School of Church Music.
Martin held his undoubted and celebrated talents – be that his musicianship, his athleticism or gifts of character - on trust from the Giver of all good things: God.
In the spirit of the great parable Martin multiplied the talents he was given, and he did so to the glory of God and in service of God’s people: the Lord is surely saying to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’ (Matthew 25.23 AV).
Those talents changed lives.
Think of countless organists, directors of music in parish churches, of choristers – boys and girls – of congregations, who through Martin’s direction, harmonies and music have sung God’s praises and grown in ‘wonder, love and praise’.
I have seen, through Facebook, Twitter, emails - media that Martin studiously dodged - as well as letters, just how much Martin meant to so many people.
Those messages conveyed Martin’s humour, his playfulness with words, the nicknames that might be applied to some people or places.
Each of us brings today, and cherishes, memories and anecdotes that we offer in thankfulness to God.
Figuratively speaking we can place upon Martin’s coffin tokens that represented the essence of Martin.
What would you place upon his coffin to represent him?
It may be a pair of shoes: whether you think of his organ playing shoes or his running shoes, that is up to you!
It may be a glass of red wine and a ham sandwich; the regular lunchtime fare given to friends, and flagging Vicars, to encourage and uplift us.
It may be a handwritten note, in his, oh so distinctive, writing, perhaps placed inside a recycled envelope with the previous addressee’s name crossed out.
It may be a manuscript of his music, perhaps ‘Martin How at 90’ or a copy of ‘Day by Day’.
No doubt there are many more items that capture who Martin was to each one of us.
All we say of Martin today is not to eulogise him unrealistically, but to celebrate and be inspired, knowing that our lives are enriched by having known him and made music with him.
We continue to love him and rejoice in who he was for us.
The reality is that Martin and his memory is not our possession, indeed he never was, but today we entrust him in the power of the Spirit, in the name of the Lord into the hands of our loving heavenly Father, to whom he has always belonged.
Two particular things were placed on Martin’s coffin last night, and they take us to the heart of his faith and hope and love: a Bible and a crucifix.
The Bible - God’s word, that Martin proclaimed so unforgettably and lyrically in public worship, read intelligently and wisely in his personal devotion and set to music richly and sensitively– holds the promise of life in all its abundance.
The cross –through which Martin was ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’ - is the sign of Christ’s sacrificial love, love to the very end, ‘ Love so amazing, so divine | Demands my soul, my life, my all’.
In the days before he died, Martin was, in that powerful phrase, ‘strengthened by the Rites of the Church’. In other words, he was anointed with oil, made his peace with God through confession of his sins and received Holy Communion as heavenly food for his journey, the Body and Blood of Christ which had sustained him through being an almost daily communicant here at the Minster.
In that spirit he was ready to go to his maker and redeemer as a believer in God, our companion in faith, a Christian pilgrim, ‘singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [his] heart’ (Colossians 3.16; cf Ephesians 5.19).
May Martin, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.