What is the point?

A sermon preached by Rachel Revely, ordinand, on Tuesday 10 May 2016

 

Evening Prayer readings: Deuteronomy 31.14-29, 1 John 3.1-10

 
What… is… the… point? 
Now I am sure we have all thought that recently especially after midnight in the library. But that’s  also what I would be thinking if I were Moses in our first reading. What was the point? You spend nearly all your 120 years talking to non-flammable vegetation, risking sheep and limb dragging these people out of Egypt, wandering the desert for years, think of all the blisters, then what do you hear on your death bed after all your hard work “Soon you will lie down with your ancestors. Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign Gods.”  … Excellent

I don’t know about all of you but I would be thinking what is the point? But not Moses. Although he is dying, and spoiler alert: his death takes all week.
 
Moses still cares about God, the people and his beliefs. Moses hears all the lord has to say and still witnesses to it. He preserves it as law and passes it down amongst all the tribes. Till the end Moses upholds the courage of his convictions. For me, Moses epitomises courage in the old testament, even though like many others he is a rather reluctant prophet but Moses is courageous and no matter the situation always witnesses to God.
 

Courage is crucial to our lives as Christians and in this Novena, we have been asked to pray especially today for the gift of courage. But what is courage some of us might say its the student who when faced with this  very question in an exam wrote: “this is” stood up and walked out.

Whilst others could say it is drinking the mystery ascension day cocktail in the bar. Courage comes in variety of forms. Courage is often something someone else has or needs, we can make it a facet of the other something distant and far away. We don’t need courage, why would we? Surely, we are safe! But that does not acknowledge that we are all given courage through the saving power of our God.
 
In our second reading John says that sin doesn’t have the power of fear over us because we know we God but this can appear like arrogance and starts to build up a dichotomy that if you sin you are not saved and if you are saved then you do not sin. However, we all know its not as simple as that. 
 
What I believe we see in our second reading is the courage of God that is imparted to us, through the cross. We do not and should not have courage in ourselves alone but have courage in ourselves through our saviour.  Jesus is the foundation of our faith. He is our stronghold in who we find courage and safety.
 
But in this week of prayer for evangelism and mission we cannot just rely on safety and ignore our God given courage. The nineteenth american theologian William Shedd once said “ships are safe in harbour but thats not what ships are for” and I think this analogy is true for us as well. We are not just supposed to sit in safety. Taking our gift of courage from God we could go out empowered by the gospel. This is part of God’s plan for us. We even hear it in our psalm for this evening “Send forth your strength O god and establish what you have wrought in us.” And what god has wrought in us is established through the power of his gospel. Moses died before he could cross the Jordan but he died as he lived being courageous and listening to God.  This is what we should all strive to do for the rest of our lives… 
 
Because fundamentally… that is the point.

Annual Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Written by Philip Murray, Ordinand. 
——————————————————————————–
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Lk 1:38
On entering the Shrine Church at Walsingham, pilgrims come immediately to the Annunciation Altar. There, in bright white and Marian blue, that tremendous moment at the beginning of the Incarnation is depicted in still simplicity. The Angel Gabriel kneels in petition; the Blessed Virgin Mary sits in quiet humility; the Father looks on expectedly, surrounded by the heavenly host who wait in nervous excitement on her word. “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum” pilgrims read on the Altar—the angel’s first voicing of those words uttered by countless Christians ever since. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”. And on reading these words, pilgrims can’t help but think of Mary’s reply: the proper prayer of all who, like her, seek to follow her Son: “be it unto me according to thy word”.

These words, of course, have a particular significance for those preparing to take Holy Orders in the Church. Mary’s unhesitating acceptance of God’s call on her life, her complete self-giving in service of God’s plan for his creation, is the ideal that guides all of us in formation for the diaconate and priesthood. It was appropriate, then, that the Annunciation Altar was where pilgrims from the House gathered at the beginning of our pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The pilgrimage was, in a sense, already well under way. We had made the not-very-long journey across the Fens, the many verses of the Walsingham Pilgrim Hymn sung with gusto on the bus (Ave! Ave! Ave Maria! still rings in our ears). We’d visited the Slipper Chapel at the Roman Catholic Shrine, and availed ourselves of the plenary indulgence offered to all pilgrims crossing through the Mercy Door during this year’s Jubilee of Mercy. We’d walked the Holy Mile to the Anglican Shrine, many of the braver members of the House barefooted. But it was at the Annunciation Altar, as S. Luke’s account of the Annunciation was read, that our spiritual pilgrimage got properly underway.

Walsingham is a microcosm of the Church, a place where a myriad of individual Christian vocations are woven together into something that supports and guides all those seeking to follow Christ: the Lady Richeldis de Faverches, asked by the Blessed Virgin Mary almost a millennium ago to build a replica of our Lord’s childhood home; Fr Alfred Hope Patten, called to rebuild the shrine in the 1920s and 30s after its destruction during the Reformation; the priests and deacons who have ministered at the shrine from that time since, singing the Mass and offering pilgrims the healing waters of the well. And so our pilgrimage to Walsingham gave us the opportunity to bask in this same spiritual atmosphere, as we sought to draw closer to God for guidance and support in our formation. In the Holy House we were reminded of the humility of Christ; at Mass we were shown once again of his generous, sacrificial giving; in Benediction we dwelt on his on-going presence in the world; at the waters of the well, we were shown the healing that only faith in Christ can bring. All of these are things that we, as men and women who—God willing—will one day be ordained, will be expected to model, as we serve as a reflection of Christ in the communities to which we’re sent.

Walsingham, then, is chiefly a place of vocation: the vocation of Mary, who’s unwavering Yes to God forms the very basis of our faith; the vocations of all Christians who’ve made pilgrimage to Walsingham, aided by the prayers and example of Mary, Mother and Model of Vocations as they seek to follow her Son. As we came away from the Shrine, we too were refreshed in our own vocations. Through a day of prayer, communion and frivolity, we were made more able to say, with Mary, “be it unto me according to thy word”.

And you know the way to the place where I am going. – A Sermon for St Phillip and St James

Sermon preached by Ayla Lepine, ordinand at Festal Eucharist for SS Philip and James
__________________________________________________________________

‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
 
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our reading from John’s gospel this morning begins with something that that seems pleasant. Be comforted. Relax. Everything is fine. Is it? It’s perplexing that each time it appears in scripture it seems to be a signal to do exactly the opposite of what these words from God’s mouth are telling us to do. Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ That ‘fear not’ language that so regularly punctuates the Old and the New Testament is, certainly, a compassionate gesture towards the promise of calm, safety, and salvation. It also appears, again and again, where it is evident that the hearers are terrified, anxious, and urgently and blindly searching for any answers that will provide layers of insulation against a truth that is hard to hear, or that might be beyond what these listeners think that they can stand.
If you find you are deeply anxious about something – or perhaps a long list of things – one of the least helpful responses to receive is ‘don’t worry about it’. Not because it wouldn’t be good to be freed from anxiety, but because this may strike us as an impossible thing to do. Worse, that reaction might come across as a diminishment of the turmoil we’re experiencing. Often, behind that unhelpful ‘don’t worry about it’, is something far better – the assertion that you and your anxieties are cared for, that you count, that your confidante believes have ample strength, through faith and through hope, to keep going. Sometimes anxiety can be so paralysing that it simply stops us from being able to listen at all.
Jesus tells his friends that they are welcome guests in their Father’s house, and Jesus puts this across with logic, with care, with the promise that he and his disciples will ultimately not be parted. ‘I will take you to myself’ is a truly intimate phrase. I will not let you go. I will hold you close. A place for you, where you count and where you are free from the trouble that cloaks you so thickly you are unable to see, to hear, even to breathe…..a place for you is waiting. Prepared. So trust, Jesus says. Please, trust. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’, Jesus concludes. We are moving towards the Passion narratives in this chapter – Jesus and his disciples have been traveling together a while, knowing one another better, learning all they can from the Son of God they follow as their Lord, as we do, faltering sometimes, trying to listen, trying to put one foot in front of the other, as we continue – tragically – to let our hearts be troubled.
How do the disciples react to Jesus’ assurance that they know the way to their Father’s house, because, indeed, by following Christ, they are already stepping within its threshold. Thomas contradicts Jesus: ‘we do not know the way.’ Jesus explains – you do know the way, I am the way, you have seen the Father. Philip ignores Jesus: ‘Lord, show us the Father’, and what’s more, Philip, as we so often are because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and so unwilling to accept the utter love God has already shown us…Philip says the disciples won’t be satisfied until they’ve seen the Father. Jesus gets annoyed. ‘you still don’t know? Still don’t see? Still won’t believe?’

Today the Church celebrates saints Philip and James. They followed, they accepted God’s call. They faltered, they misunderstood, they struggled to see how and why God loved them so much. May we, like Philip, James, and Christ’s apostles, follow our Lord, who has prepared a place for each of us, if we would only turn, if we would only trust that we know the way. Amen.

Easter Term Opening Eucharist Sermon

Easter Term Opening Eucharist – Monday 18 April 2016

Sermon preached by The Rev’d Dr Will Lamb, Vice-Principal

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10.10)
+In the name of the Father…
When I was first ordained as a Deacon, I remember having to learn the Exsultet, the Easter Song of Praise. As you will be aware, the Exsultet is sung at the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve or early in the morning on Easter Day. It takes some practising. And I remember learning it and singing it again and again during Holy Week, determined to get it right. But I also remember feeling slightly awkward singing these words as we journeyed through Holy Week – surely I should wait until after Good Friday before singing this Easter Song of Praise. ‘Rejoice, heavenly choirs! Sing choirs of angels! Exult all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our King is Risen!’
Surely I needed to enter into the depths of the tragedy and dereliction of Good Friday before rushing too quickly to the resurrection. I needed to stand steadfastly at the foot of the cross. And with the pious intensity of youth, surely what I needed to ensure was that my Holy Week was really grim.
And yet, John the Evangelist subverts all that. Life can be grim enough, and he reminds us that Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
We should not lose sight of the fact that if the gospel is good news, then it is quite simply life-giving. Yes, in the course of ministry we may well find ourselves standing alongside others on Calvary, not because we choose to be there but because God has called us there. The important thing to remember is that God shows in Jesus that he loves us so much that he wants us to rise up and to become fully alive. He calls us out of the tomb we carry within us.
To live life to the full, to share in life abundantly, is not to ignore the reality of human experience and human suffering, but it does mark a refusal to be overwhelmed by suffering and the deadliness of death. 
Baron von Hugel, a lay Roman Catholic, had come originally from Austria and lived in London from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. There he developed a ministry as a spiritual director and a great authority on the mystical tradition. If you’ve ever come across his letters to his niece, you will have some inkling of his wisdom and judgement of character, above all his sense of humour.

He met many of the leading theologians of his day, including Cardinal Newman, and Fr Henri Huvelin, one of the great spiritual directors of his day and who exercised a profound influence on Charles de Foucauld. In his little book, The Life of Prayer, he writes this: ‘I used to wonder in my conversation with John Henry Newman, how one so good and who had made so many sacrifices to God, could be so… depressing.  And again twenty years later, I used to marvel contrariwise, in my conversation with the Abbé Huvelin, how one more melancholy in natural temperament than even Newman himself, and one physically ill in ways and degrees in which Newman never was, could so radiate spiritual joy and expansion as, in very truth, the Abbé did.’  
What does it mean to radiate this kind of spiritual joy?
It is a joy which finds its strength and confidence in the hope of the resurrection. I remember once a priest telling me that Christian ministry demands a very high doctrine of death and resurrection. In other words, the ministry of a priest is shaped by the Easter mystery. These fifty days, which culminate in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, should be a time when we seek to explore the depths of that mystery.
And I want to suggest to you that the discovery of the kind of spiritual joy that von Hugel describes lies in cultivating two things: and I want to invite you to ponder these two things as we begin a new term.
The first is about grace – and grace is about recognising that everything we are and everything we have and everything we ever will be is simply given to us as a gift. We may think that we can earn status or friendship or love by good works – but the truth is that God acknowledges each of us as a beloved child, as a source of delight to him, and that is not earned but given to us. The whole drama of salvation, everything we have celebrated at Holy Week and Easter, is given freely to us.
And do not underestimate the transforming power of grace. Here we begin to understand the real depths of the generosity of God. Grace is transforming  because it presents us with a challenge. And the challenge is whether we can find it in ourselves to be generous in our dealings with one another, just as God is generous to us. I promise you that you will never regret being kind or generous in your dealings with another human being. There is joy in generosity. There is joy in kindness.
The second thing is about prayer – it is no accident that von Hugel offers these reflections about joy in the context of a discussion about prayer.
A few years ago, I found myself in a conversation with a Carthusian monk, who had spent over ten years in silent contemplation at the Grande Chartreuse, high in the Chartreuse Mountains in south-eastern France. This kind and gentle monk had been on quite a journey and he was responding to a call to be a priest in the Church of England. He had been on a series of parish placements to become more familiar with parish life. I was interested to learn something of his impressions of the parish. He spoke animatedly of the role of the laity, of outreach and mission in the local community, and of the sometimes frantic busyness that characterized the parishes he visited, and then he looked a little puzzled and he turned to me and he asked me this profound, unsettling and yet simple question: ‘When do you adore God? When do you adore God?’
Westcott House Chapel
One of the regular puzzles about life at Westcott is its frantic pace, the busyness of each working day, packing so much in, classes, placements, tutorials, meetings… In some respects it mirrors the busyness of parish life. And yet when the bell rings, everything stops. We are called here to offer prayer and praise to the God of Life.

In these times of prayer, the Risen Christ comes to us, the Risen Christ gives himself to us. We learn to rediscover the reality of his grace and mercy again and again and again. And this is the source of all our joy. Whether we come to the altar tired or doubtful or sad or just messed up, or whether we come to it bursting with laughter and energy, it is the same constant Christ who gives himself into our lives in order that he might draw us more fully into his. And it is here that we discover again and again the One who is our resurrection and our life.

Re-imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Re-Imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Wednesday 4th May 2016, 10am-4pm
Westcott House, Cambridge

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not only two major themes of Christian faith and the life of the church, but also of the world and for humanity.

reconciliation

Re-imagining forgiveness and reconciliation is a one-day event facilitated by the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College Chapel and author of Healing Agony (Continuum, 2012), and Dr Elizabeth Phillips, Tutor in Theology and Ethics at Westcott House and author of Political Theology (Continuum, 2012).

Morning sessions will focus on forgiveness and reconciliation in the life and teachings of Jesus, including discussion of a contemporary parish-based case study. One theme of these sessions will be the relationship between reconciliation and justice; afternoon sessions will further explore this theme in relation to the pressing problems of, and various Christian approaches to, racism.handshake

You can find more information and a booking form on the Westcott House website.
The cost is £35 per person, which includes lunch, teas and coffees.

Meditations from Westcott’s Quiet Day – Lent Term

Tuesday March 15 was the final Quiet Day for the Lent Term at Westcott. Instead of addresses, the community was invited to meditate on 5 poems by Michael Justin Davis, four of which came in the voices of Simon of Cyrene and Mary Magdalene. The poems are posted below. 

All have come from Michael Justin Davis, To the Cross. All images from Wikipedia Commons.

Mosaic in Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Christ led to Calvary


                                                           SIMON OF CYRENE – 1


It was the wailing cry made me turn:
Up the road
A group of mourning women were lamenting,
But there was no corpse.
Only, between the Roman shields and red cloaks
A bent figure – stumbling under 
A baulk of wood – 
Staggered down the hill.

He fell three times before he reached me.
The women wailed louder at every collapse
And the soldiers
In their slow march
Grew more impatient.
‘Here, come here, you black oaf!’
(Their commander was calling me)
‘Come and carry this cross-beam
Or we`ll never get to the north gate:
Come on, pick it up!
Heave it up on your shoulder, man: move!’

I cringed away.
It was abhorrent to me.
I had never before
Touched any Roman instrument of torture,
Though of course I had seen –
As soon as we came to Jerusalem
For our first Passover
Since leaving Cyrene – 
The upright posts
Standing ready day and night,
For the next wretches to be crucified.
I had shunned Golgotha after that.
I hate all violence. I always have.
We lamp-makers are peace-loving men;
And I was brought up
In a more civilised city,
Elegant, prosperous Cyrene.
There, the Romans hardly ever crucified
Anyone. But in Jerusalem
They compelled me to carry that cross-beam.

As I heaved it up
From their exhausted prisoner
Lying in the road,
The women wailed again and
The doomed man whispered to me: very quietly.
I could scarcely hear him
And his lips were as white as a shroud:
He asked me my name.
He thanked me.
He blessed me.

When I think that I have helped,
Even a very little,
To relieve the pain of my tormented 
Saviour,
I give thanks.
That cross-beam was heavy, even for me,
And I am quite strong.

His blood, that had oozed
Through his clothes onto the rough wood
From his flayed shoulders,
Anointed my shoulders.
His sweat, that had poured onto the plank
From his head and neck,
Baptised me.

When I remember that I obeyed
His murderers
And did not protest
At the ritual
Of his killing,
I am anguished and distraught.

Warendorfer Passionaltar, detail (full image here)


                                                 MARY OF MAGDALA – 1



At first the soldiers would not let us come 
Near to the cross.
‘Get back!’ they shouted, jabbed their spears,
Hustled us down the slope again.

‘Keep away!’ they jeered, ‘Your king is too busy
To see you.
Obstinate bitches: go back!’

The soldiers let other people get near
To the crosses, to jeer and spit
And make vile gestures.
All we could do was wait.

His mother gazed and gazed at him
But we doubt whether she saw
Anything at all
Through her dazed, stricken eyes.
I saw little myself of the taut,
Stretched-out limbs.

My eyes were seeing the past:
His gentle hands moving – 
Practical, consoling – 
And his eyes looking at me
With grave attention,
Years ago in Magdala … that day
When all my jerky, aching bones,
That I’d never been able to keep still
Or to move as I wanted,
Suddenly attained peace,
Moved together in
Harmony.
As a little girl I had been laughed at,
Left out, ignored.
Nobody would play with me.
I was never wanted.
As a young woman,
If you can’t walk properly, but jerk about
And spill your food
And smear it on your face, of course
Nobody wants to look at you,
Nobody wants to talk to you.
Jesus looked at me,
Spoke to me, 
Touched me,
Soothed me and healed me.
Years ago, at home.
How can anyone want to hurt his hands?
How can anyone want to kill his eyes?

No longer attracted by the pain
Of the men on the crosses,
The bored crowd
Wandered off home and the jeering
Faded. Then the soldiers didn’t bother
Any more to stop us coming close
To the foot of the cross.

We have already waited an eternity
For him
To die.
How can she find the strength,
His mother?
Bewildered, she crouches here in my arms,
Waiting, waiting without any hope.

I do not think she has ever believed
In her son as the Christ,
Any more than her other children have believed
In him. Brothers, sisters, all of them shrug
Him off as odd, weird, mad.
But she loves him,
Loves him without understanding:
Her strange son.
That’s what she calls him:
‘My strange son. My strange son.’

But I?
I call him my Saviour.
Of course I don’t understand him
Any more than she does.
But I know he is my Saviour.
I love him.

So we wait together, his mother and I.

                                             

Mary Magdalene — Robert Lentz, OFM


 MARY OF MAGDALA – 11


When the soldier said:
‘He’s finished. So be off with you, women.
He’s dead, I tell you. He’s had it.
There’s nothing you can do. Go home,’
We were so tired that all we could do
Was to stumble a few paces and crouch down
Among the rocks.

I cradled his mother in my arms.
Our grief was dry.
Dry.
There were no friends, no disciples,
Only us desolate women
Keeping watch again.
I tried not to think
Of the corpses of criminals
Piled up together
In one of the communal tombs,
Where I knew the Romans
Would fling all that was left
Of him.

An old women passed by
And offered us a little bread.
We hadn’t eaten for hours.
We accepted it gratefully.

Then a strange man, much agitated,
A wealthy Israelite, Joseph from Arimathea,
Came to ask if he could see about
A burial for Jesus.
Our anxious relief came in
An outburst of weeping.
When he had gone,
We huddled together again.
We dozed, and eventually slept.

We woke to see a group of five men
Swiftly carrying the body
Still nailed to the cross-beam.
This Joseph from Arimathea,
This highly respected councillor,
Must be a courageous man
To have braved the Romans.
We agreed that Joanna and I would come
At dawn, with all we would need
When the Sabbath ended,
To prepare the body for 
Its true burial.
Then I went home with Jesus’ mother.
She slept. For a long time we could not.
But I have no memory of that Sabbath.
It was still dark
When we got up and prepared
Ointment of aloes, yellow resin of myrrh.
Sponges and cloths and flasks of olive oil.
I packed the long-necked jars in my basket,
While Joanna heated the water.
When it was warm enough
We took our pitchers, and with Mary,
As dawn was breaking,
We walked through the north gate.
Golgotha was deserted: a grove
Of gaunt, bare posts in the misty dawn.
All three cross-beams had gone.

We made our way among the tombs,
Every one blocked with its massive stone,
Some squared, some rounded. We hoped we wouldn’t
Have to wait long for Joseph’s men
To arrive at the tomb of Jesus
And heave that stone aside
To let us in. We wanted
To get our work over and done with.
Then we came within sight of the tomb
We were looking for.
Oh no!
We stared at it with horror:
A gaping mouth of rock! Open! Wide open!

The huge stone had been rolled aside
In its groove.
Who could have dared to enter?
No Israelite would have taken the risk,
When even to touch the body
Meant ritual defilement.
The Romans? But why?
We ran to the tomb and peered in.

Somebody was there.
A young man in white clothing
Sat on our right in the entrance, on guard.
He shone. He inspired awe.
And fear.
We shrank away, terrified. He stood up
And spoke: ‘Do not be alarmed’, he said – 
Alarmed? we were petrified –
‘You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth
Who died on the cross:
But he has risen.
He is not here.’
The man pointed to the stone of anointing
At our feet in the ante-chamber.
‘Look’, he commanded, ‘there is the place
Where they laid him.’
I stared at the bare rock.
Tears filled my eyes.
‘You must go,’ he said, ‘And tell his disciples this:
“Jesus is going before you to Galilee;
There you will see him,
Just as he said you would.”’

We turned and fled with our baskets and pitchers.
We ran back, all the way back to our homes,
Too frightened to tell a soul.

And who, anyway, would believe
A mere woman?
Only a man can bear witness
And hope to be believed.
But I, Mary from Magdala,
Too frightened until now
To describe that amazing morning,
Know that Jesus was no longer in the tomb,
The empty tomb.

Later, I took a little of that myrrh – 
Those rich, shiny, yellow tears of gum –
Placed them in a small linen bag,
And hung it round my neck
On a silken thread.
In the hollow between my breasts
This hidden myrrh is still fragrant,
A living perfume.




St. Stephanus, Hainhofen: Simon von Cyrene hilft Jesus das Kreuz tragen

                                                        SIMON OF CYRENE – 11


I think, as night falls,
Of people lighting the lamps I have made,
And every flame I imagine
As lit from the life of Jesus
Resurrected.

It is many years since I carried the cross,
Then crouched at Golgotha praying
To be forgiven:
Praying, praying, weeping.

Ever since that day I have been Christian,
Even before the resurrection,
And my wife too.
Life is full of change:
We have been called Berbers, Greeks, Jews: and now
We are known as Christians.
Our sons, Alexander and Rufus,
Often tell my story at their meetings
And repeat my message of hope:
‘I believe I am forgiven by my saviour,
And I have forgiven myself.’

Recently our old friends in the synagogue
Have turned against us. They have
Refused to speak to us again, ever.
We have made new, Christian friends,
Though sometimes we feel lonely,
As our Saviour did.

The clay of every lamp I make
I sign with a hidden cross,
Remembering how I was called
To help Jesus to his death:
And he,
Lying in the road,
Blessed me.

from the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome



THE WAY TO THE TREE OF LIFE

I have heard of the way to the Tree of Life.
Wise men say it stands like a fountain of flame
And smoke and wind and water,
The Tree with branches cascading from remotest air
And gold roots that burrow and thrust everywhere.
If I want to see it,
I must set out today between the houses’
And look for it with mine own eyes.
But it is not enough
Merely to see the Tree.

They have said I must come to the Tree of Life.
Wise women tell me to explore it with my fingers,
Taste its aromatic bark with my tongue,
Listen to the syllables of its twigs.
I must sit under it,
My spine pressed hard against the Tree-trunk
In stillness.
While ants and doves and whales and tigers
Revolve round the motionless Tree
In ecstasy and boredom and despair,
I must detach myself from all care,
Be in tranquility.
But it is not enough
Only to experience the Tree.

Sages have said I must go from the Tree of Life:
Enter my self,
Enter my being,
Travel the way that is no way at all
Through the person who is no person at all
Climb up the tree that is no tree:
The higher to climb, the more to see!
Up and up from serpent to eagle
To find –
Far higher from the lordliest of eagles –
Ragged and bleeding
In a golden nest, with frankincense and myrrh,
The phoenix,
Scarred and radiant, singing in silence
His eternal song of forgiveness
And love.

Sermon in anticipation of Mothering Sunday / Refreshment Sunday, 2016

Given by Beth Phillips, Westcott’s Tutor in Ethics.
2 Cor. 1.3-7; Luke 2.33-35
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction . . . ’  Amen.
In many churches this Sunday we will be celebrating mothers and motherhood, and I must confess to you that even after ten years in this country, I find it difficult to embrace Mothering Sunday. Now, one may very rightly denounce the consumerism of American Mother’s Day and how it has been imported into Mothering Sunday, and I will be in agreement there. My problem with Mothering Sunday is more about seasonal timing. To an American, Mother’s Day is redolent with Spring and Eastertide; and it comes in May when the weather is warm and it’s lovely to be outside. So it is difficult to embrace Mothering Sunday in the midst of Lent. Mother’s Day and Lent do not go together; it simply feels wrong.
But if anything could persuade me to change my mind, it may well be the readings we have just heard. 
The gospel reading takes us back to the same moment we observed on Candlemas, when Jesus is presented at the Temple, and his presence is the source of great rejoicing for Simeon and Anna. On Candlemas we tend to focus on the words of Simeon which we sing in the Nunc Dimitis, words of gratefulness, fulfilment, consolation, and hope – words which Simeon addresses to God. In tonight’s reading, we are asked to pause and consider Simeon’s less lyrical words, those which he addresses directly to the mother of Jesus: 
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ The tone of these words is entirely different; these are words of foreboding, danger, mystery, and suffering. 
Mothering Sunday, like American Mother’s Day, can be a sentimental and shallow celebration of an idealised vision of motherhood, just as Valentine’s Day is often a sentimental and shallow celebration of an idealised vision of love – motherhood and love are apparently all warm feelings, and roses and champagne. 
Perhaps the invitation extended by our gospel reading, in stark contrast to this sentimentalising of motherhood, is the opportunity to contemplate and enter into the reality which Mary experienced uniquely as the mother of Jesus, and which all of us experience in lesser ways: 
that motherhood – like all our most intimate relationships – can be the source of both unparalleled joy and consolation as well as the very deepest pain and suffering. 
I don’t mean this in a simple and trite way. This is not merely the sort of truism that could well grace a Mother’s Day greeting card: ‘Motherhood: It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have, and the best!’ – though of course that is a truism because there is something true in it.
What I mean, though, is something rather more ­­ searching, something about the mystery of human interrelatedness and interdependence, of which motherhood is in some ways a unique instance but is in no sense the exclusive instance. Wherever we connect most deeply with one another and commit ourselves most fully to one another’s good – whether that is in friendship, or marriage, or parenthood, or communities of religious orders – we find both the deepest, most fulfilling consolation, and the deepest, most piercing pain.
Our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians describes Christian discipleship and ministry in these same terms. ‘For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation . . .’ 
Whether our vocation in life is to priestly or lay ministry, to parenthood of children or to other forms of being fruitful in this world, whenever we commit to the journey of seeking to faithfully embody our vocation – to be disciples – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, there too will we find both the deepest, most fulfilling consolation, and the deepest, most piercing pain.
So perhaps Mothering Sunday really does belong in Lent, if indeed it is an opportunity to contemplate and embrace this mysterious reality – this coinciding of joy and pain, of suffering and consolation – because Lent is a season in which we seek to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s sufferings and into the unique joy and consolation prepared for us when we take up our cross and follow him.
Now, lest I create the entirely false impression of a person who deeply understands and keeps a most holy Lent . . . 
I should be honest with you about the fact that each year I tend to feel genuinely bitter about the beginning of Lent. But again, this has everything to do with seasonal timing. 
Having spent a great deal of my life in the very sunny regions of southern California and Texas, I find myself deeply affected by the darkness of winter at this distance from the Equator. Quite frankly, it makes me miserable. 
And when we come to the beginning of Lent each year, we are not only suffering the toll taken by months of sun deprivation, we are also at about the midpoint of the academic year – that point at which the excitement of the beginning of a new academic year is too far behind us, and the horizon of the end of this academic year is too far ahead of us. 
So at that precise point each year – just when I feel certain I’ve altogether come to the end of my ability to cope – my honest feeling is, ‘Lent? Really? At this point I’m supposed to deeply contemplate my mortality and make grand gestures signifying my finitude and sinfulness and general inadequacy? Great. That’s just what I need.’
And yet, most years, it becomes very clear to me somewhere in the course of these forty days that this is, in fact, just what I need. 
For just as we cannot enter into the deepest joys of our mysterious human interdependence without entering into the dangerous certainty of those joys being accompanied by deepest pain, so we cannot enter into the deepest joys of our lives in Christ without entering into the dangerous certainty of the cross. 
Our Lenten disciplines should be a piercing mixture of contemplating the sufferings of Christ, embracing the ways in which we must enter into those sufferings, and turning to the world around us to see where ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ are suffering today – where Christ is suffering now in and with them, and meeting Christ there by refusing to remain indifferent to that suffering. And there we find, along with St Paul, that ‘just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ’.
Now, that may not work as a message on a Mother’s Day card, but perhaps it resonates more deeply and honestly with the rich and mysterious realities of motherhood, and of all our most intimate interdependencies, than all the flowers and roast dinners and greeting cards could ever do.
And so, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction . . . ’
‘ – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.