Ave Maria

As I prepare the blog for Sunday, it’s Saturday evening and I’m putting the finishing touches to the Mothering Sunday sermon; I say sermon, but it’s become affectionately known as ‘the talky bit’ at our all-age Eucharists. And, once again, I’m faced with the fact that, for some, this day of refreshment on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is a day of joy, celebrating mothering, our mothers, being a mother, whilst for others this is a day of hurt, feelings of loss, grief. It might even be a time of both joy and pain – bitter-sweet memories, hard to hold in check in the wide-eyed happiness of others.

With the help of the church warden and some of our young people, at the start of ‘the talky bit’ I’m going to be presented with a Simnel cake from which I shall take a slice (I now have a reputation for getting food – cake, chocolate, even bacon and eggs – into my sermons, talks and assemblies). The idea is that this will remind us of a time when domestic servants were given a ‘day off’ to visit ‘Mother Church’ with their families, visiting their mothers too, perhaps picking some wild flowers along the way and, in some instances, taking a Simnel cake too. I think that’s a good enough reason to scoff cake in front of the vicar (I’m the Assistant-Curate at Bourne Abbey, Lincolnshire). The hope is – and this ‘talky bit’ has been prepared by others as well as myself – that we will realise that the celebration of mothers on this day is a joyful, sumptuous slice of cake, but it is one slice of a much bigger cake, or, rather, a much bigger story. Wherever we’ve come from – whether we’re directly rejoicing in the gift of motherhood, or grieving at the loss of a mother or bearing the pain of not being able to be a mother (there are so many different scenarios), we all get to be a part of that bigger story, and we all have the example of devoted motherhood set before us in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary who said ‘yes’ to God and his call on her life and, giving birth to Jesus, points us to our Lord and Saviour.

Are we, likewise, going to say ‘yes’ to God and the bigger story of his love seen in Jesus Christ, child of Mary, Son of God. Because, amazingly, no matter our own personal pages and chapters in the story of life, when it comes to the huge story of God’s love, which has global proportions, we all can have our cake and eat it!

And as I finish and head off to bed soon (since the clocks go forward tonight!), I just have time to listen to a rendition of A Maiden Most Gentle and Tender; more directly suited, of course, to Christmas and Epiphany, but, then again, those festivals are also part of that bigger story aren’t they?

Rejoice and be glad at this Christmas [or Mothering Sunday] we pray,

Sing praise to the Saviour sing end-lessly.

Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

Ave, Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

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Sleeping

They were young and beautiful, in the simply way the very young are. They did not realise this, the most of them anyhow, and by the time they did, the beauty would have drawn back a little. They were also, to a bridesmaid, asleep. It was late and they were young. Even excitement could not hold them awake.

The bride and groom were nowhere to be seen, delayed by the ceremonies and excitements, and the tediums of politeness at her old home. Her new one awaited. Probably with a difficult mother-in-law, but today nobody was thinking of that.

One small lamp burned. ‘Keeping the oil for the big moment,’ said Jesus, ‘but I hope they have plenty.’

‘Perhaps they should have stayed awake,’ said John, rather piously.

‘Perhaps,’ said Jesus, ‘But it can be a long wait. No the important thing is to have oil. I mean, to have what you need, to be ready when the moment comes. Because the wait is long, agonising. Justice? Love? How long a wait. It would make a good story, I think. Twelve young girls. The ones with enough oil, and the ones without. The point is, sleep, but then be ready – when the moment comes where you CAN make a difference, then be ready… I shall work on that story. It would be a good funny one.’

Whispered Conversation

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Read John 3.1-17 (today’s Gospel reading for the Sunday Eucharist) and listen to the whispered conversation in the middle of the night between the Pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus; mysterious Rabbi who, rumour has it, comes from God.

Here, there is both earthy language and spiritual expression. Encountering these characters, we are reminded of our physicality; think of the start of Lent – we are but dust. Yet, a heavenly reality takes us beyond this worldly fact to show us that we are anything but dust. We are created to be in relationship with our Creator. We are loved by God. We are reborn.

Let the wind blow us to the height and depth of that love that we, though aware of our brokenness, might know through God’s Son, Jesus, and in our inner-most being, the living presence of God, his grace and his mercy, this Lententide. The darkness of the cross is before us during Lent. But even now we can see a chink of light beyond the shadow. The promise of rebirth and new life.

Waiting for the angels, perhaps.

I remember those days and I think of the huge throng that dragged around behind us. A great train, men and women, young lads. People you felt honoured to meet and people you would not introduce to – well, never mind you would not introduce them to your aunt. You would not introduce them to your street-wise uncle.

Several of us tried to warn him. I am tempted, now, to say: ‘Judas tried to warn him,’ but that would be a lie, or rather, I am sure Judas DID warn him, but so did I, and several others, and I can imagine the cool, funny, witty rebuke that would have followed, if Jesus heard me just blame Judas. So I won’t.

Jesus has taken us twelve off out of the press. I know, to my shame, that that particular day it was me who tried to warn him. He was sitting with his back to an olive tree, not very comfortably, but cool in the shade.
‘Um,’ he replied, ‘so let me get this clear. You are – well you USED to be – a fisherman.’ He stopped and looked at me. I nodded, no idea where this was going. ‘Right, so you used to throw out a net, and you caught just the fish you could sell, right?’

I grinned ruefully. I am no fool, and now I was second-guessing him. But I played along. It was best to. He liked that. And well, he had that way with him, that somehow you wanted to make it easy for him. ‘No Rabbi, all sorts got caught in the net.’

‘Ah, so once the net came near the surface, you could see what was what, and only bothered to haul in the good.’
‘No, we just hauled the whole lot in. You cannot open the net under water without losing the whole catch. Well, really you can’t open it at all.’

‘So as soon as you got them in the boat, then you sort them?’
‘No, in the boat you just had a great flapping confusion. We took them to the land, and sorted them there, into baskets. Valuable, saleable but not valuable, worthless.’
‘Where you could take time, and judge what you had?’
‘Yes, where we could make a good calm decision.’

And then he confounded me. I thought he was going to say some of the people were good and some worthless –but no. He said: ‘Each time I meet somebody, their lives are a huge mix, a bundle of fish in a net. Some of the things in their lives are good, valuable. Some are run-of-the-mill, needing a lot of work to make much of. And some parts of their lives are worthless, and some are utterly poisonous, deadly. One day, maybe, they can throw away the parts which are poisoning them, and dispose of the boring parts to some good use, and take the exciting valuable bits and build on them. But asking them to do that too soon just means that everything gets muddled and lost. We have to wait, and perhaps for a lot of it, we have to wait until the angels come and do it for them. Perhaps. Meanwhile, we take the struggling bundle along with us.’

In the Shadow of His wings…

We have sought our way through Lent again, yet it is always as if for the first time, tracing a journey from the desert, from the arid exhaustion of our questions, into a more concentrated space where God’s voice is heard afresh, where we are encouraged to listen… and to be astonished.

So we approach Holy Week, and it is as if entering an intense silence: a slow and introspective journey in our Lord’s footsteps, eyes focussed on the here and now – and not on the glory to come: which is still waiting to overwhelm us, too great to contemplate.

Tentative, dreading the Friday that lies ahead – slow and introspective because that beloved voice asks us also to listen and to hear. For so long we have searched… in books, through preachers, thinking, and reflecting others’ thoughts: absorbed in the question “Who do they say he is?”

And now we hear that voice, gently, insistently; “but who do YOU say that I am?”

At the beginning of Holy Week the time for us to answer …is: now.

We are stripped bare; our everyday lives (found wanting) have been laid aside – old worn-out clothing, patched, inadequate – and we are waiting in the shadow to be clothed in light.

At our most vulnerable, all stripped down to what we really are.     And, at the moment when all is most truly lost, inconsolable … we find ourselves suddenly so utterly loved and protected, so absolutely beloved, so held in the shadow of His wings…

(Psalm 17:8, Psalm 91:4)