25 years ago I preached for the first time in my village church – a few months into Reader training.
It was Mothering Sunday and my vicar had decided that as I, the mum of 3 small children, should take the opportunity for my debut with an engaging, interactive, all-age service.
If I recall correctly, I was geared up to compare and contrast the perfect mothers beloved of the media with real mothers like myself, who got things wrong, got cross, weren’t always on time for school pick-up and didn’t run immaculate homes....the point being that we can none of live up to impossible hype, but scramble through life by the grace of God and the kindness of friends, and that only God is the perfect parent
Or something like that.
But then, Dunblane happened – and I found myself in a very different world from the cosy celebration of happy families and egg-box daffodils that I might have imagined
The mothers who miscarried the babies for whom they had such hopes, such dreams - I think hope is written in the DNA of all mothers
The mothers spending agonised, anxious hours surrounded by the life-saving but terrifying technology of SCBU, or watching at bedsides in hospice or hospital, hoping beyond hope
The mothers of Aberfan, Dunblane, Sandy Hook, Chibook and so many many more
The mothers whose sons were victims of knife crime - and those who carried the knives
The Argentinian mothers of the disappeared
The mothers who still entrust their children to tiny boats in rough seas in the hope that they will find a better life when they arrive on the far side
The mothers whose children were simply walking home on a quiet night
The mothers whose children have gone off the rails – who are sure it was all their fault
The mothers who have lost touch with their children, who didn’t know how to love them well enough, who don’t understand what went wrong.,,and the children who grew up feeling that they were somehow not good enough, unlovble, unacceptable.
And those who never became parents at all, whether by choice or by mischance.
Those who feel absolutely alone in life, with nobody to confide in, nobody to delight in joys or share in sorrows
All those who won’t risk coming to worship today because it’s just too painful.
Why am I saying all this today?
Surely last week’s thoughts about the way of the cross provided more than enough pain and disquiet for a while…
I’d love to simply preach consolation...but reality keeps forcing its way in.
Because this has been an emotional week in an emotional year for many, probably ALL of us.
Because I don’t know anyone who hasn’t struggled at least a little – probably a lot – as we go through this month of covid anniversaries
Because we need to be honest to God about our feelings…not tidy them up, replace reality with a glossy mask that we think God might prefer.
Because we need to make our churches REAL – places where all feelings can safely be named, where no grief, no disappointment, no anger at self or God is unacceptable
None of us gets through life without a few swords through the soul.
Our wounds may not always seem to be of the same order as Mary’s, but that in no way diminishes their power to knock us off course and leave us bruised and grieving
So – let’s admit it.
We who love our battered, glorious cathedral should surely be able to manage that!
The inspired choice more than 60 years ago to retain the ruins preserves our wounded reality in broken stone and heat warped iron. It’s a place which understands grief. Torn apart itself, it offers room for those whose lives have been torn apart in different ways.
And beside it, though the new cathedral may appear all triumphant transformation, beneath the overwhelming presence of Christ enthroned in glory, inextricably connected to it is the figure of Christ crucified, drawing the whole world to himself.
And there, unlovely in her grief, but constant in her love, is the statue of his mother.
Mary the representative of all the wounded loving souls who can only stand at the place of suffering and hope that new life may yet begin, even there.
Last night, after I’d finished writing these thoughts I went downstairs to light a candle and place it in the window, knowing that many many others would be doing the same. And then I saw fearful images from Clapham Common and was tempted to despair.
But the candle still burned.
A candle of love and remembrance for Sarah, of course – and for so many other women who never got home safely – but also an act of subversion…a reminder of the extraordinary, ordinary truth that even here, and even now, even as our souls our pierced, this truth remains
Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.