Clive was a character, a one-off, whose life we celebrate later today in his thanksgiving service. For many of us a daily visit to the BBC Scottish website ended when the news was broken to his family two weeks ago that his body had been found in a remote Highland stream.
It would seem that Clive lost his balance and banged his head in the fall.
His life touched many people and many will be coming some considerable distance to his service. Eric Bramhall my predecessor hopes to fight his way up the M6 to be here, along with several of Clive’s contemporaries from Christ Church who will be travelling from London and Yorkshire.
No doubt colleagues from Norfolk, South Wales and certainly from the far north of Scotland will be making the journey. Meetings will be missed, others rescheduled, appointments cancelled. People make the investment to be here, at some cost.
Certainly those who attend Clive’s service will want to support his family and also to meet up with each other. But there is something more fundamental here.
One of my big regrets is not making the funeral service for my old WGS headteacher, Colin Lovett, who died about 15 years ago. I only heard last minute and his funeral was to be in Pershore, a 250 mile round trip. A widower he had no family apart from a sister. All this I rationalised as good reasons for not attending his service. And no one was expecting me.
But Mr Lovett (I could never call him Colin, as he insisted when I once visited him in Worcestershire) had a huge influence on my life – which wasn’t apparent at the time. I followed him to his college in Cambridge, the same one, as it happens, as Eric’s. To this day he comes to mind when I hear the opening verses of John’s Gospel being read at carol services.
By not making the effort I now feel I had let him down. I did not honour his memory. For this is a special dynamic at a funeral service, something which involves everyone who attends including those who slip in at the back. We acknowledge their life.
Of course, they can be painful, sometimes brutally so. But there is a powerful sense that the world has changed. We need to mark the occasion, something we do together.
That’s why funeral services are often now called thanksgiving or even celebrations of a life. Above all it is something we do together before God. For it is Jesus who makes all the difference. And not just at Nain, when a funeral became an ex-funeral thanks to his raising of the widow’s son. That was just the foretaste.
I can remember being very moved watching the funeral of cosmonaut Colonel Vladimir Komarov way back in 1967, a great Marxist commemoration in Red Square. Suddenly his widow stepped forward, out of script, to poignantly kiss his large photograph; she was utterly bereft and apparently devoid of hope. Behind all the pomp there was nothing there, a spiritual vacuum and we now know, a terrible rage.
It can’t be easy taking a humanist ceremony, not uncommon nowadays – for what can you say? Except for a few short years a collection of cells came together to form our loved one, before once again dispersing into a huge universe. Along with Monty Python, you could try to laugh at the absurdity.
It is the resurrection of Jesus which makes all the difference. And it is when we take part in a funeral service that we see the Gospel most vividly, for what it is – incredible good news, something which Clive as a journalist would relish. Paul writes that all God’s promises find their YES in Jesus, above all his promise to redeem the whole of creation from the tyranny of death and decay.
So as we thank God for the remarkable life of Clive Dennier, we do so in hope. Something indeed to celebrate with thankful hearts.