Tuesday 23 August 2022

Martin How - Funeral Homily

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’.[1]


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’[2]  - 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’.[3]


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.

[1] ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ – Charles Wesley (1707-88)

[2] ‘Praise, my soul, the king of heaven’ - Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

[3] ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ - Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Monday 22 August 2022

Martin How - Reception of the Body & Requiem Mass

Homily preached at the Requiem Mass for Martin John How MBE (1931-2022), Croydon Minster, 22nd August 2022, after the reception of his body on the eve of his funeral.


Romans 6.3-9 If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

John 11.17-21 Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.


‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.’





In our gospel reading Martha says to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.


But, because Jesus was now present, her brother Lazarus, who had died, was called out of the tomb and raised to new life.


In his ministry the Lord sets a pattern of bringing light into darkness and life out of death.


In his resurrection he seals the triumph of life over death and invites all humanity to receive that life: ‘life in all its abundance’ (John 10.10).


In the words of an Elizabethan poet, a text set to music by William Byrd, ‘O lively life, that deathless shall persever’ (‘An earthly tree, an heavenly fruit’ : A Carol for Christmas Day, Son of sundrie natures, 1589, nos 40 and 25))


This is what St Paul is distilling in his letter to the Romans, saying that ‘if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him’.


By his baptism our friend and brother in Christ, Martin, like us all, died with Christ that he might be raised with Christ.


By his baptism Martin was part of Christ’s pilgrim people, the Church, and was fed by the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.


Martin died just as the feast of St James, the apostle and patron saint of pilgrims, drew to its close.


What a day for him to die; the feast of a saint who intercedes for us on our pilgrimage, our journey of faith on this earth, which finds its destination and home in heaven.


Martin walked in that path, indeed, as a runner well into his 80s, he positively ran eagerly the path of Christian faith.


A text that leapt to my mind is a verse from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians:


“But I am still running, trying to capture that by which I have been captured” (Philippians 3.12)


The text continues (albeit in a different translation),


Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.13-14)


Martin’s earthly pilgrimage is now complete.


Martin had been captured, captivated, by Jesus Christ, the source and object of his many gifts and talents.


Tomorrow at his funeral we will, of course, remember what ‘lies behind’ because that is what we know of Martin: his music, his gracious, kind, generous character; the signs of the tremendous grace and power of God that shone out of him.


Curiously Martin sat very light to what he had achieved in his life.


He was never one to wallow in what ‘lies behind’, to dine off his reputation or sit back and say ‘do you know who I am?’


Martin had cracked a wonderful gift, that he lived his life as one who could savour the day and look forward in hope and confidence to tomorrow; what lay behind was lovely, but it was not what shaped who Martin was when he met another person.


As Martin ran the race that was set before him, he gathered friends and companions: a companion is literally ‘one with whom we break bread’.


We break bread tonight with the body Martin – our companion in the faith - in our midst and we offer this Eucharist of Requiem asking that Martin’s sins will be forgiven, that he may indeed receive ‘the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3.14) and eternal rest.


The pilgrim has now come to the end of his earthly journey.


All that remains for us now is to pray for him, to watch with him for the signs of the coming kingdom.


This evening, after the words, ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ we have the tough task of walking away.


But we walk away confident that Martin is embraced in the love of his Lord, that he is surrounded by the angelic host, who are represented in the quire of the church as holding musical instruments and in full song - what better place for Martin’s mortal remains to rest on the night before his funeral?


And then our faith and hope is that he will be wakened into the new life of heaven in the splendour of light perpetual: the Lord is here: our brother lives!


As verses from psalm 30 put it:


Sing praises unto the Lord, O ye saints of his : and give thanks unto him for a remembrance of his holiness.

For his wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in his pleasure is life : heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

(Psalm 30.4,5)