I’m writing this mid-July as I’m going to be away later in the month. It’s curious how different little events and comments can spark off each other to form an image or story in one’s mind.
Kathryn and I frequently walk in the fields behind the manse and this invariably means our walk goes through parts of the Otford cemetery. A while ago as I walked through the cemetery I was following an elderly woman who was with a much younger woman, who I assumed was a relative. They were talking about where the older lady wanted to be buried. Being nosy, I slowed my pace, so I could stay behind them and overhear their conversation. She didn’t want to be buried in the Otford cemetery. She had a plot in the Lake District, Keswick, a beautiful part of the lakes.
Friends from OMC recently holidayed in the Lake District talking to one of them after they returned he commented on how beautiful it was. This reminded me of the two ladies in the cemetery.
Yesterday, Thursday, I was watching the news of the terrible flooding in parts of Europe. It was July 15th, (St Swithin’s day.)
St Swithin was the Bishop of Winchester in the 9th C: he died in 862. Upon his deathbed, he asked the monks to bury him in a humble grave outside the north wall of his cathedral where the sweet rain of heaven might fall upon him and the feet of the saints may tread. This they did, but such a humble resting place for a great man did not rest easy with the monks and on July 15th 971 they moved his body into the Cathedral and built a shrine to house it. It rained as they exhumed the body and continued to rain for forty days and forty nights: they concluded that their actions had displeased the bishop and the rains were a sign of his displeasure: however, they didn’t move him back.
This gave rise to the legend that whatever the weather is on 15th July; it will continue for forty days.
‘St Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain,
For 40 days it will remain,
St Swithin’s Day if thou be fair,
For 40 days will rain na mair.’
Over the years of my ministry, there have been numerous occasions when visiting family members of a loved one to discuss funeral arrangements they have produced a letter, written by the now deceased, outlining the arrangements for their funeral. Readings, music, who they would like to take part etc are all detailed: rarely have they had hymns or bible lessons. On occasion members of the church where I have been serving have passed the details to me for when their time comes; that is quite different.
I’m always curious as to why people fuss about their funeral, burial/ cremation but give so little thought to what follows.
One of the early church Fathers taught that when a Saint leaves this life, believers should go into the streets celebrating and singing with great joy because the departed saint has ascended to be with The Lord; not mourning their own loss. In this context the title saint refers to any believer in Christ.
Our faith in Christ is a real, powerful, motivating force which transforms individuals and communities in ways beyond imagining. Too often, by focusing on the transitory, the finite, the trivial our vision of God becomes blurred. Little things take on an importance which they don’t deserve and consequently, our faith becomes satisfied with less rather than yearning and seeking more of God. If what we believe about God’s love and His grace is real, then our lives and behaviour should exhibit it.
It isn’t often that a minister says he wants his congregation to be thoroughly dissatisfied; but I am saying it. I want us to be dissatisfied with where we are as a part of God’s family here in Otford, and seek earnestly in prayer, for God to move powerfully in our midst that we may witness effectively in our community. And, if God doesn’t move, ask him why, what do we need to do to be open to His Spirits moving?
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done