When I was about 11, I had a school friend called Debbie. For a year or so we were pretty inseperable and trekked to each other's houses for tea most Friday evenings. I found her home very exciting because she not only had a mother who worked in a real job, instead of "just" being a housewife like my mum and all her friends, but also the tea time menu there regularly included that miracle of sophistication, arctic roll!
We were quite an intense pair, I suspect, and we used to take huge pleasure in finding strange little gifts for each other if either of us went on an outing,-which is why I will never forget Debbie, though I've not seen or heard of her for a good 30 years. You see, she came back from the Easter holidays with a bookmark for me,- on one side a photo of a bowl of roses and on the other some words of St Thomas More
"Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven".
I've no idea why she chose it. Neither of us was particularly pious, and it would be a couple of years before Robert Bolt's "A Man for all Seasons" would plant Thomas More firmly on my intellectual map, but I loved those words. The thought that heaven might not just be a place peopled by simpering angels and saints casting down their golden crowns around a glassy sea was wildly liberating.
Goodness!Heaven might be somewhere where one could laugh, be oneself and be happy to see friends!
That was it. I was caught, hook, line and sinker.
I not only prayed for Debbie (sometimes, when I remember, I still do) but for the man behind the words...that rare breed, a statesman of absolute integrity. I was appalled when I discovered, during Reformation History classes, that I wasn't strictly "allowed" to claim him - he belonged to that band of English Catholic martyrs who represented, in school-girl terms, the Opposition. Regaining him was one of the bonuses of a brief conversion to Rome in my 20s (though it was startling to discover at that point that I then had to jettison those other admired icons of English martyrdom, Latimer and Ridley). I wallowed briefly, if characteristically, in misplaced guilt that the nasty Protestants, my ancestors, had been responsible for the deaths of More and Fisher and the Forty Martyrs to boot, and the thought of merry meetings receded rather.
Not many years later, though, I reverted to the faith of my childhood anddiscovered that in the interim the ASB calendar had come into force, so I could keep Thomas More after all!
That sense of family members lost and refound gave me a tiny insight into how it might have felt to live through those turbulent times. I'm so glad that we are now encouraged to celebrate the heroic faith of all those men and women, whom I pray I will indeed merrily meet in heaven.
Meanwhile, today More and Fisher are remembered by the Anglican Communion and I used this prayer at the Eucharist this morning (narrowly avoiding crossing my fingers as I prayed the final sentence, which is seriously demanding)
O Lord, give us a mind that is humble, quiet, peaceable, patient and charitable, and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
O Lord, give us a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you.
Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation and all dullness in prayer.
Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you, your grace, and your tender compassion toward us.
Give us, good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.