You had to be there…


Words for Palm Sunday 2018 – St Mary’s Whitkirk

At the end of a family walking holiday in Wales we gathered around the kitchen table for our final evening meal. The room was warmed by an Aga, and since this was Wales, filled with the aroma of waterproofs, shoes and boots drying after a wet week.

My Mum, putting yoghurts, biscuits…the remains of a cake on the table, repeated our usual last meal of the holiday mantra…”eat up – everything must go.”

“I pity the person who has to eat my trainers”, retorted my Dad.

Well you managed a polite laugh…

…we, especially our young children, were almost in hysterics. For weeks afterwards they would tell the story, expecting people to find it as funny as they did.

Have you ever done that? Recounted something that was hilarious at the time…only to end rather lamely…”you had to be there.”

“You had to be there”…words that could be applied to the events of this week. After all, Thomas, who’d been there for most of Jesus’ story, couldn’t believe his closest friends had met the risen Christ…because he wasn’t there.

Thomas got another chance…what about us? Wouldn’t faith be easier if we’d actually been there?

The good news is that we can be there. The church has given us ways not just to remember, but to enter into the events of Holy Week. It’s called anamnesis. The word doesn’t matter – but its meaning does. It means remembering in such a way that events of the past are made present for us today. It’s a kind of ‘active remembering’ where we don’t just observe the mystery – we become part of it.

Every Eucharist is active remembering. On Monday to Wednesday we will share the Eucharist and hear again the story of Jesus’ last week.

On Thursday we share Jesus’ final evening with his friends. We share in foot washing – and try to grasp what it means for us. We share the very foundation of the Eucharist. Afterwards the sanctuary is stripped…the church is left bare apart from candles and a ‘garden’ in the chapel where the reserved sacrament is placed – and we are invited to watch with Jesus in Gethsemane.

On Friday, in a bare church resembling a tomb, we contemplate the cross; we try to share Christ’s final hours; we leave in silence. On Saturday we wait…

I’ve done my best to describe it – but I don’t have the words. I remember the first time as a teenager I attended all the services of Holy Week. That year I finally began to ‘get’ Easter.

Until then it was a happy ending to a story I’d heard, much less real than Christmas. I’d seen the joy around me on Easter morning, I’d even asked someone to explain – they did their best, but I think they really wanted to say “you had to be there.”

So I invite you all to ‘be there’ this Holy Week and maybe arrive on Easter Sunday knowing you’ve encountered something to transform your life.

Mothering – by all, for all.


My sermon for Mothering Sunday 2018 – St Mary’s Whitkirk

Today is Mothering Sunday – I guess we all have some memories, or something special we do on Mothering Sunday…we use it to say thank you for all the meals, washing, cleaning that mothers often do.

When my sister and I were quite small we decided we should cook the dinner on Mothering Sunday…so my memories include culinary disasters, a kitchen looking like a bombsite and Mum chewing her way through some strange meals she could have cooked much better herself.

Actually that’s not a bad picture of mothering – which at its best is far more than a list of jobs. It is about nurturing, feeding, loving, protecting…but as children grow it’s also about letting go, about letting children develop their own skills and have a go for themselves, about giving advice but being prepared for it to be ignored.

So good mothering includes pretending you’re totally cool with two children using your kitchen on their own, pretending overcooked, or undercooked or just badly cooked meals are delicious…it includes hiding your tears as children leave you to go to school, university, Australia – but being there to welcome them home and hear their stories.

And as we heard in today’s gospel – good mothering can include a sword piercing your heart. For Mary it involved recognising her son was special and letting him go to the cross…not even able to try to protect him. For others it is seeing our children make choices we know are destructive – but having to accept that they are an independent person – and hoping we can be there to pick up the pieces.

This special day also reminds us motherhood is tough even if you aren’t a mother…if you wanted to be a mother but weren’t able; if you’ve lost a child; if you’ve lost your mother; if you never knew or didn’t get on with your mother; if you are a father left trying to be mother and father…

Which is why it’s good that today we celebrate not ‘Mother’s Day’ but ‘Mothering Sunday’ – not just because I don’t like commercial American imports – but because we can celebrate not just some people – but mothering itself. And because good mothering means copying how God, in Christ, mothers us.

Mothering at its best means loving, nurturing, teaching, sharing our skills; then letting people go to find their own way. Mothering at its best means being delighted when our child succeeds, especially if they turn out to be better than us. Mothering at its best means letting people make mistakes and learn from them, but being there to pick up the pieces if that’s needed. Mothering at its best gives a new generation of rounded individuals. So ‘mothering’ is something we can all have a part in.

The church is here today because over hundreds of years it has ‘mothered’ new generations of followers of Christ. All of us, however old, need a little mothering now and then – as Christians and as people.

So how might we make this church and this parish a ‘mothering community’?

Good mothering involves loving…loving people as they are…loving people even when they’re not very loving in return…loving the whole person – bad bits as well as good. Loving to do things for people – even when they don’t seem very grateful.

Good mothering involves teaching…teaching but not dictating…perhaps explaining what difference following Christ makes in our lives…perhaps sharing our understanding of the gospel…but expecting people to find their own way to make sense of it…and being ready to learn from them when they do.

Good mothering involves nurturing…perhaps making the time to listen to others, to find out what are the difficult things in their life at the moment…perhaps inviting people to try something new – and offering to go with them…perhaps finding out how they might like to be involved in the life of St Mary’s.

Good mothering involves sharing our skills and so many of you have been willing to do that for me…helping me understand the intricacies of serving at the altar, leading sung services, filling in forms, preaching, finding things in cupboards, using the photocopier…and much more.

But in the end good mothering, above all, involves letting go, letting people find their own way of doing things. And if we have done our mothering right this will not be exactly our way of doing things – because we will have nurtured a new individual.

Letting go is often the part of mothering we find hardest, because it can involve standing by whilst a job is not done as well as we could have done it, or not done the way we would have done it. It can involve watching people struggle – but resisting the temptation to step in. And it can involve watching someone do something much better than we ever did – and rejoicing.

I have been deeply blessed by Matthew’s generosity in sharing his ministry with me…in teaching, nurturing, sharing skills – but letting me find my own voice in preaching, behind the altar, at weddings, baptisms, funerals. In sharing services he could have led much better himself, letting me make my own mistakes and hopefully learn from them.

I reckon the future of our church, and our communities depends on good mothering – so really it’s too much to leave just to mothers. So I pray that this would be a place of loving, nurturing, teaching – and letting go – where we can grow in faith and in our turn mother a new generation of Christians.