It’s another stunningly beautiful day, a clear blue sky and the river widening and lazily heading seaward. It is a day to cheer the spirits, but it is clouded with a heavy weight of sadness hearing this morning of the passing of Dominic Smart, one of the most significant and principled theologians in Scotland this century. I couldn’t say that I knew him well, we corresponded from time to time, but I often devoured what he wrote in books and especially in letters to his own congregation in Aberdeen. I was always often deeply, moved, challenged and lifted when I had the opportunity of hearing him preach. He had a special gift of bringing the timeless message of the Bible into the here and now and he, more than any other, saw the significance of Post Modernism and the loss of the meta narrative.
The special memory that I have and the one that I will hold on to, was when he took the funeral service of his brother in law after his tragic death some seven years ago. I had never heard the gospel message explained/proclaimed/commended so clearly, so tenderly, so passionately, so winsomely before. It was, of course, a tribute but it seemed like a sermon and I thought, as I mentioned to him afterwards, if he was only to preach one sermon, that would be it. It could only be the most indifferent, the most stubborn, and the most icy heart that would not be melted by the grace and love and beauty of Jesus present throughout the whole service.
The fact that this message came out of a very dark and bitterly sad situation, with no attempt to sweeten the pill or cover over the pain but bluntly and courageously facing the un-adulterated truth straight on, with a steady eye, was, in itself, remarkable, and demonstrated amazing and, no doubt, costly courage.
The words meant so much and I recall them as clear as day: in the Good News contrasting with the bad news and its hopeless message –“try harder….to a bird with broken wings – flap harder” , the throwaway line “This Jesus, who forgives sinners rather than feebly turning a blind eye” the laying bare of the shallowness of our understanding of what goes on in someone’s mind, when the family were encouraging him to believe it was getting better and he knew it wasn’t – “he was right all along – and we were wrong”, and the tender love and comfort in the lines..” and when there was no hope, still underneath him were the everlasting arms”. At the end of the sermon was the final gentle but firm appeal “It took them some time to find the body but he didn’t die alone and you don’t need to die alone”.
I was moved afterwards to take the words from Deuteronomy and write a song. You can hear it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4FXdR6-D98&feature=youtube_gdata