Homily for November 2020
7, 14, 16, 32…. Complete the sequence!
Hope Springs Eternal !
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”
― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man
It was a Rugby League Challenge Cup Final like no other before it. In front of empty stands at Wembley, the Rhinos overcame the Red Devils by a whisker on Saturday 17th October 2020, thus claiming a 14th triumph in the competition by the narrowest of margins: 17-16. Spare a thought for the Salford stand-off Kevin Brown, who has now reached the Final with four different teams and finished a runner-up on each occasion. At the age of 36, he will be asking himself what he has to do to set this record right: should he move clubs again or stick with his current team and strive once again to achieve a goal that must be nearing impossibility.
More poignant still was the manner and means of the victory secured by Leeds. With 5 minutes to go, the former Castleford scrum-half and now Rhinos captain, Luke Gale, stepped up for his second drop-goal attempt and this time the ball sailed between the sticks and confirmed him (as if confirmation were needed!) as the most legendary breaker of deadlock in the history of the game. On his back the number 7, most famously worn by Rob Burrow, an evergreen in the Leeds side between 2001 and 2017, for whom he played 493 times, scoring 198 tries, 157 goals, 5 drop goals and a total of 1111 points. Rob announced his retirement in 2017 and his last match was the Super League Grand Final in that year, when he helped his club to victory over the Castleford Tigers at Old Trafford.
On Thursday 19th December 2019, it was announced publicly that this genius of the 13-a-side code, for many years known as the smallest player in the game, this colossus of Rugby League, had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Thus would this wonderful example of a sportsman, loving son, husband and father to three beautiful children be struck down with the most cruel of conditions, one that has no cure and no treatment. There seems no sense to it, except that of a hope for a better future. The documentary released around the same time as the Challenge Cup Final was the hardest thing to watch, yet spoke volumes in the courage of this young man and his family and their hope that, through huge funds raised, a cure will be found so that suffering for others will be diminished or even eradicated.
One thing that many of us have experienced since the start of lockdown at the end of March 2019 is a heightening of the senses. We have been able to see, hear, listen and appreciate many different things in the world outside us and that within us too. Symbols and signs have never been far from the surface and the words of Pope above are key:
Hope Springs Eternal
Prompted one day recently by my reading of Celtic Morning Prayer, this is the passage I used for a 3 thirds study at the start of our most recent Trustees’ Meeting: “What did you like about this passage, what challenges did it pose you, what did it tell you about yourself and what did it tell you about God?”
John 14: 1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
For me this was very poignant – I find it so hard to relax and find a quiet spare yet a few moments to breathe deeply and consider these words which bring so much comfort in troubling times.
If this was not sufficient re-assurance, the following picks up the same theme and offers a further clarification
19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve,
but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
John 16: 19-24
In a preach this month at Trinity, Gaynor Hammond drew our thoughts to the things we have missed during these difficult times and to the anticipation we feel at the opportunity we will have through hope of renewing these pleasures of intimacy, friendship, sport, music, theatre, whatever our passion.
There is a time for everything! (Ecc 3: 8)
In her sermon earlier in the month, Helen spoke of the rainbow, the symbol we saw everywhere at the start of lockdown. In order for one of these to occur there must be sun… and rain. First comes the rain and then as the sun filters through it, one of the most beautiful natural phenomena is created.
Psalm 16 was read to us at Doris Haig’s Funeral this week by Sam, one of her grandsons
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
In a subsequent service, Helen gave us all a few sunflower seeds and spoke of the powerful symbolism of this further miracle of nature. How I miss the sight that we saw so many times in southern France of a field of sunflowers , all the gigantic heads, as big as dinnerplates, turned towards the sun! The French name is evocative: “tournesol” and the Italian too: “girasole” (=turn sun). It is the phototropism which governs this movement in the plant. For us, it is not necessarily a natural focus to fix our eyes in God, though it should be! Though the sun is frequently obscured by clouds and rain, nevertheless it is always there, if we could only remember that!
Helen will speak soon about the representatives of another omni-present natural phenomenon: that of birds. She has patiently, determinedly and doggedly cajoled, encouraged and incited a family of blue-tits to return to our front garden. There is a new bird-table, a hanging feeder, a variety of suet balls and bags of nuts. Week after week she has waited patiently and observed the comings and goings of all and sundry, though not of the blue-tits! Eventually, two weeks ago, a rather scraggy-looking individual of the volatile kind appeared and began to investigate the repast on offer, then another … then another. Now they are frequent visitors! How delightful it is to see that these beautiful creatures have returned to us. They have always been there, somewhere, but we just could not see them!
Soon we will make our act of remembrance for all those who have given their lives in the cause of freedom in the two world wars and conflicts before, between and since. Our focus the will be the poppy, another miracle of biology and the enduring symbol of hope, which began to grow all over the fields where the trenches of the Somme and the Marne had once been.
May we pray that we have the understanding that this symbolism brings!
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
7,14,16, 32 ….
Complete the sequence! Where will it take you?
This is where it brought me:
Hope Springs Eternal
Peter Lambert – November 2020