What’s so terrible about Bognor?

George V was a dutiful king, did what he was supposed to do when he was supposed to do it, and that’s about it – there’s not a lot more to say about him. It’s sad that he’s mostly remembered for his last words, and they were hardly inspirational. According to the Britannica website: A pervasive rumour holds that, after being told he could recuperate in the seaside town of Bognor Regis, the King’s last words were “Bugger Bognor.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could choose our last words? But we can’t. Chances are that even if we came out with something notable and noble, ten minutes later we’d have to ask for a drink or a loo break. That’s life.

It reminds me of my Dad and his sister Nellie. They were the last surviving siblings in a very large Irish family, and they both lived to a good old age. It was sad for them to see their brothers and sisters slipping away one by one, until only they were left, the babies of the family. Dad lived in Norfolk and Nellie lived over the Penines in Lancashire, and once a year I would drive Dad over to see Nellie, a round trip of ten hours and a big undertaking for a frail old man. Every year, without fail, they would both tearfully say “Well, it’s the last time we’ll see each other.” and every year as I drove Dad home he would struggle to choke back tears, and Nellie, standing on her front step would wave and wave until we were out of sight, and we all knew that she, too, would be fighting tears. Well, this went on for years. Years and years. Every year Dad would say a grave, trembling farewell, and every year Nellie would hold his hand a little too tight and say bravely “We’ll meet in a better place.” Every year for ten years. Nellie died first and when I offered to drive Dad to the funeral he shook his head, he’d said all he had to say, ten times over. Nellie must have been about 98 because he died pretty sooner after, at 96. A good innings.

I’ve just finished reading through the Book of Joshua. That’s a man with a wonderful ending – I’d love to write those scenes. He says ‘Soon I am going to die’ and then he gathers together all the elders and leaders of Israel, and he has some last powerful words for them, giving it to them straight, and in return they make a solemn promise to him that they will never abandon their worship of the one true God (wonder how that will work out?). And no sooner has he sent everyone away than he ups and dies. That’s a lovely film ending. An old old man surrounded by his family and friends and followers, making his peace, giving his last teaching, and then – work done and all sorted – dying in his own bed at peace with God. It reminds me of a friend who died about 7 years ago; Michael was a great bloke, full of humour and kindness, with a few flashes of naughtiness, and he’d come to faith in the last couple of months of his life, ‘fessing up to it probably only a couple of weeks before he died. So, as he lay dying he was a brand new Christian. Brand spanking new. He’d come to church with his wife Jane for a few years and it was a church where there was good solid teaching, so he had some background knowledge of theology but still, he was a new convert. A few days before he died he was baptised, not by full immersion because he was unable to leave his bed, but baptised nevertheless. And then, with all of us gathered around his bed (like that old painting of Nelson’s death) he spoke to his adult son and his daughter and to his stepson (none of them Christians) and he told it to them straight. He had some great last words for them. He told them about the love of God, told them how good life is with God, reminded them that life is fleeting on Earth, don’t waste time, turn to the right way now… turn to Christ. It was amazing. His weak voice seemed to have grown stronger, his gaze was steady.

Was there a great, amazing, thunderbolt and lightning effect on his family? Did they rend their garments in repentance and look heavenward? Not at that moment, no. They shifted uncomfortably and nodded and looked down at their feet, and muttered ‘Yeah, dad, alright.’ But maybe in the years to come they’ll remember what he said, remember how he prayed for them, and they’ll take a shaky step towards God. Wouldn’t that be great? If the last words we said brought someone to heaven’s gate? Not a bad way to leave this world.

I wonder what our last words will be, you and me? Best start planning now…..

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