How strange is the death of one of God’s people. The Psalmist says: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15).
The Psalmist was rejoicing in thanksgiving for being spared by God from death.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; … Then I called on the name of the LORD: … you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:3-4, 8-9)
But then he makes the extraordinary claim in v15, that the death of His saints is precious in His sight. The verse speaks of our great value to God, which is seen in particular in our death.
We matter to God. Death matters to God. Our death never goes unnoticed by him and our “passing” is never a matter of indifference to him. The cemeteries may be full but yet God still values the death of His people.
It is why he sent his Son into the world – to pay the price for sin. He died our death and rose to give us new life – but we still die.
Even though we die, death has not defeated us. For “neither death nor life…can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). So Christians do “not grieve as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We do grieve, for death is horrible, but we grieve in the certainty of the resurrection.
That is why we greet this week’s news of the death of Sir Marcus Loane with the mixed emotions of joyful sorrow. Sorrow because we have lost one of Australia’s greatest sons, and one of Sydney’s greatest leaders. Joy, because our brother in Christ has finally come to rest from his labours and to enjoy the presence of his beloved Lord and Saviour.
Sir Marcus’ ninety-seven crowded years can be summarised: as child of God, husband, father of four, grandfather of seventeen, great grandfather of twenty-three, minister of the gospel, pastor, army chaplain, scholar, lecturer, college principal, archbishop, primate, historian, theologian, author, and preacher. He preached in every parish of our diocese and every diocese of our nation. He was a great ambassador for Christ often representing our diocese around the world. But apart from telling of a full and active life in the service of other people, such a summary does not really remind us of the man.
He was, for most of his working life, quite simply the leader of Sydney Anglicans. A Christian of deep Protestant and Evangelical convictions, he stood for all that Sydney Anglicans hold dear. He was a man in Christ. Reverently, carefully and faithfully committed to the exposition of the Scriptures. He loved the sovereign ways of God’s action in the salvation of people – especially in the Reformation of the 16th century, the Evangelical Awakening of the 18th century and in the history of Australia. In his own tumultuous times, he stood firmly for the evangelisation of the city and nation, while being deeply involved in the promotion of world mission. Consistent with the tradition of evangelicals, he carried a deep social conscience for the poor, the addicted and the marginalised of our society, the “widows and orphans” of our day.
He was a humble man of great personal integrity, strength and resolve – physically powerful but quiet and gentle. There was a meekness about him that came from strength of mind, body and most of all spirit. He was a man of great gravitas who enjoyed a lively sense of humour. He was a public figure who disliked publicity – after one interview a journalist described him as the only man she had met who was able to smile and look pained simultaneously.
His use of words was very precise and poetic. Celebrating 71 years of marriage he said: “The greatest prize I ever won was the heart of the noblest girl I ever knew”. His careful crafting of words gave great power to both his preaching and his writing. There was an emotional intensity carried in the content of his communication, without any use of emotionalism. It was a matter of passionately held truth clearly expressed.
The clergy of my generation had an unreserved admiration of him. His very distinctive manner of speech was often impersonated. His memory for details was legendary. But it was his willingness to courageously stand for the truth, without fear or favour, which won our deep veneration.
Archbishop Loane had a reputation for being conservative and resistant to change. I only ever found him personally encouraging as I tried to adapt church life to the changing culture of the day. Every time I met with him, his concern was for saving souls and encouraging people, into ministry especially to the overseas mission field. This concern for the personal and pastoral work of the gospel overwhelmed any concern about change or conservation. It is not surprising that he spent his final twenty-seven years faithfully engaged in pastoral and personal ministry amongst the people of his local parish. It says a lot about him as the humble man of God.
But now is the time of his death. It is time to thank God for the gift of this great leader who faithfully fulfilled his ministry. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
His death will not pass unnoticed by us. But as the Psalmist reminds us, it will not pass unnoticed by God either, for – Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.