A short reflection in week 1 of Marlborough College Summer School
“you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” – Matthew 11.25
The daily Gospel reading for today doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for the first week of Summer School. Surely we are here taking or teaching courses to learn, to become wiser and more intelligent? And here Jesus says that the important things in life are actually hidden from the wise and intelligent and shown to infants.
However, when we think about it, we realise that they are actually words of wisdom, conveying a truth we intuitively already know. Because I think, or I hope, that most of us here at Summer School are not here to achieve something, but rather to enjoy the process. There is no certificate, no diploma at the end for most of us, but what remains will be hopefully the memories and the discovery of skills and talents we didn’t know we had.
Here we are, on the last day of term. I’m sure most of us are looking forward to the holiday, to a break: a change of scenery and a change of rhythm. Some of us will travel far, others will stay closer to home. However, all of us, at least hopefully, will make it out of Marlborough. And, I also suspect that for most of us, the rhythm of the days and weeks will change for these two months: no check-in, Studies or prep. No assemblies, Chapel or fixtures.
And of course, although you may take some friends with you, it is also a break from those you see every day, whether that’s people you like or those whom you find slightly more challenging. The summer gives us an opportunity for a change of scenery, a change of rhythm, and a change of company.
Although not for all of us, for most people, July and August are the months in which our pattern changes, and our normal routines are suspended. Not only schools take a break, but also many reading and study groups don’t meet over the summer months and the number of administrative meetings is reduced. It is a time and opportunity to unwind, to pause and to reflect. Even if our lives are no longer dominated by school or work, it is important to change the way we use our time occasionally, although I’m not denying the significance of a regular pattern of living!
Firstly, refraining from our routine activities gives us the opportunity to make time for other things, such as visiting family or friends, or pursuing something we have always wanted to do. Also, it gives us a chance to reflect on our priorities: when the way we use our time is no longer given by our routine, we have to make choices how we want to spend the days or weeks.
The Feast of Pentecost has always had a particular significance for me, as it was the day on which I was baptised and confirmed at the age of seventeen. Apart from the embarrassment of spilling the wine when it came to the Lord’s Supper, what I most vividly remember is the feeling of both joy and apprehension at making this public commitment to the Christian faith.
Joy and apprehension, I suspect, is what the disciples may also have felt on that first Pentecost – literally the fiftieth day – when they became filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different languages. Both the disciples themselves and those living in Jerusalem were caught by surprise, because although Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit would come, at the time his followers did not know what this meant or what it would look like. It is also a moment of commitment, both demonstrating God’s loyalty to His people as well as the charge given to his followers to proclaim His message to all people, in all languages.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. (…) The Israelites wept for Moses for thirty days; then the period of mourning was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses has laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Deuteronomy 34.4-5,8-9).
Our friendships are not limited to the people we meet. We can meet friends in books, films and poems: fiction or non-fiction, and occasionally feel a connection with them just as we would feel with those we meet in person. In this reflection, I will look at the way in which those who are no longer with us can continue to influence our lives in a similar way that our friends can. This ‘type’ of friendship is not about getting stuck in the past, but acknowledging that our present and future are shaped by it. Whether we have known a person well or not, their stories and memories can teach and influence us, inspire and guide us not unlike our present friendships can.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)
Yesterday, it happened to be Ascension Day, I made a flying visit to Berlin. The occasion was a sad one: the funeral of a beloved friend of many and associate priest at St George’s, but as so often it is an opportunity to meet friends, to share memories and to be thankful for not only what she meant to us, but also what we mean to each other. In a subsequent reflection, I will write some more about the friendship of those who have gone before us. However, here I would like to focus on the friendship offered by a hugely diverse group of people.
Until 1994, St George’s was the Garrison Church for the British military stationed in Berlin. When the Allies withdrew from Berlin after the Reunification, St George’s became a civilian church. By the time I arrived in 2010, so in about a generation, the congregation had turned into an eclectic mix of Brits, Germans, Americans, Africans and many others of different nationalities and backgrounds such as myself. As soon as I walked through the door, I felt welcome, and I was not the only one. The fact that St George’s has produced a steady stream of ordinands is only one of the signs of its ability to welcome and nourish people in their faith.
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.” A third reflection on the nature of friendship, looking at the importance of sharing our experiences.
One of the first things one learns when undertaking any pastoral training, is never to say “I know what you are feeling”. None of us know what someone else feels, particularly not when they have experienced something we have not. However, I suspect many of us have also been in situations when we did have the sense that the other knew what we felt, and were indeed much comforted by this experience.
In those conversations, our experience mirrors the encounter between Cleopas and the other disciple as they are on their way to the village called Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). It is the day of the Resurrection as they are discussing everything that has happened in the last few days. Presumably still scarred by the reality of the Crucifixion, the two disciples are trying to make sense of the events and seek their significance. Continue reading “The Road to Emmaus: Companionship”→