A Homily for Mary Jane Wilson given on the 19th July 2023 by The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold AO


Jane Wilson loved music, we have heard just now of that love from the beautiful eulogies by Jenny and Sarah; which has been symbolised by the laying by her granddaughter, Lucy, on the music stand of some of her favourite pieces. That love has also been echoed through the music which has accompanied our time together today. Indeed, we will shortly hear Nimrod, the ninth of Elgar’s Enigma Variations which will be performed by Anthony Hunt on the organ. Sarah told me that Jane was listening to this very piece the night before she died. It is an especially beautiful piece of music often played at funerals. The title of the work from which it comes – Enigma Variations – seems particularly apt at times like this, for life itself seems such an enigma, and what is to come after death even more so. Elgar claimed to have ‘hidden a musical mystery deep in the heart of his Enigma Variations’, he wrote:[1]

The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed.

Perhaps music itself is the key to the enigma, something beyond mere human comprehension as it touches something way beyond any mortal ken. Music has always had an especial place in human consciousness from before recorded time. Indeed, ethnologists have speculated that the first utterances of hominids were as much in the form of song as they were of speech.

In the Jewish Targumin there is this reference to the divine nature of Song:[2]

In the Scriptural sense, שירה, song, represents the concept that people understand the harmony of creation. Nature is always ‘singing’, because, from the tiniest microorganism to the mightiest galaxy, everything acts and interacts as God intended it to. This is song. It is the most awesome symphony conceivable, because it consists of an infinite number of players uniting in playing the Divine score. But man seldom sees this harmony. He is troubled by questions of faith, resentment over his neighbour’s success, and failure to see how events lead toward coherent fulfilment of a Divine scheme. When – on those very rare occasions – people perceive God’s plan taking shape, they sing. This is why Moses and the Children of Israel sang after the Splitting of the Sea. In a lightning flash of perception, they achieved an understanding of centuries of events. This understanding of creation’s harmony found flesh and blood expression in the harmony of song.

So, today let us hear the music and song of this service in the spirit of ‘a lightning flash of perception’, listen to it in a way that reaches heavenward; so that we have some sense of that harmony of the divine with our world, to understand that, though it is beyond our mortal senses, there is indeed a bridge between the two, not a chasm. Our reading from Isaiah today reflects just such a bridge:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God …

You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.

God loves us all, He has loved Jane. He has held her hand through the fire of recent years as she aged. Those recent years were a travail for her and for those who loved her as they watched her decline. But, again from our reading from Isaiah, in his love for Jane, and despite all that has happened, God reminds us that:

I am about to do a new thing.

Jane has now, to use Paul’s metaphor, finished the race of this life, more importantly though she has now, through Christ, entered a new life. Isaiah quotes the rejoinder God said about this new life:

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

For now, we grieve. We grieve Jane’s passing because we will miss her presence; but these words from Isaiah call us to put in context what death should mean for us. A loss, but not a defeat. Jane has died, but she has not been defeated; neither have we been defeated for, through Christ, in God’s timing, we shall meet again.

That we can affirm this, we know through our second reading today, from John’s gospel. The reading started with that period after the Crucifixion when Mary only had the certainty that Jesus had died, that he was no more. She came to the tomb to grieve, showing her love the only way she knew how:

Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

It was at that very moment that the person to whom she had spoken, whom she had presumed to be the gardener, gave voice to the miracle of God’s love for his creation. For Jesus, now resurrected, and dead no more, said it all in one word:


A few days before Jane, or Mary Jane as she was baptised, passed, I was privileged to spend a time of prayer with her in the presence of Jenny, Sarah, Michael and Ben. I sensed a profound feeling during that time together, that Jesus was indeed calling ‘Mary’ to her, summoning her home; summoning her in that beautiful sense of those words from Zephaniah:

At that time I will gather you, at that time I will bring you home. [Zeph 3:20a]

During that time we shared together and the subsequent days when Jane’s family spent more time with her, there was not a sense of saying goodbye but of sharing a deep love. As an example of that love, I was deeply moved whilst I was there at how Ben showed just how profound that deep love was as he came forward, leaned over Jane, and silently kissed her twice on the forehead. By his action, Ben was not saying ‘goodbye’, he was saying ‘I love you’. So too should we not say ‘goodbye’ but ‘we love you, Jane’. We can do so reassured by the words of God quoted in our Isaiah reading:

You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.

 Until, through God’s timing, we meet again, let us treasure beautiful memories we have of Jane to provide a balm of our grieving, knowing that what we do today is not to say goodbye, but to say ‘Adieu’ – to God – and ‘Au revoir’ – until we meet again.

[1] www.classicfm.com/composers/elgar/guides/story-behind-elgars-enigma-variations

[2] Shir HaShirim cited in the Chumash, p1235