Address for Sister Margaret Mary SPB
Revelation 21. 1-7 and John 12.
The Greeks came asking to see Jesus. They had, perhaps, seen him from a distance and recognised that through him they could learn and understand more. I think we are all looking to see Jesus in our different ways. Sisters, I am in awe that this is your life’s work. Those of us who come here, to this Abbey, are - in different ways - also looking. Maybe we are here to worship, to do some task, or to have coffee and chat as we used to do so often with Sister Margaret. Some come as friends; some as family. Sister Margaret loved her family and spoke so warmly of you. However, in a sense, whatever we are doing we are looking for Jesus.
That’s what the Greeks in our reading were explicitly asking for. We’re not really sure who these Greeks were. It could be that they were Proselytes to Judaism. They were standing in the Court of the Gentiles - where Jesus did most of his teaching - and were perhaps confused by the stone pillars separating the Court of the Gentiles from the inner square of the Temple. These pillars had written on them “No alien must pass within the fence round the Temple Court”. The punishment for doing so was death. The faith to which they had converted was barring their way. When we are welcomed into your court at Burnham Abbey, it is as outsiders - of course - but we are welcomed in. Any curtains of separation have been torn down.
We are not sure how Jesus actually interacted with the Greeks who wanted to see him, to meet with him. However, in the words which follow (and we take it they were in response to the request of the Greeks) Jesus points to His death. It is as if He is saying “If you want to see me it is to my death you must look” but of course it was not a death full stop but a death that led to life in the resurrection. Here, at the Abbey, you are devoted to the blood of Jesus; the shedding of which leads us new to life. As the Rev’d David Simpson so eloquently expressed it on the Feast of the Precious Blood: it is blood that gives us life; that gives us identity. It is blood which is flowing, moving around our bodies, moving ever onwards, like the River of Life flows which we read of in the Book of Revelation. In contemplating the death of Jesus, we gaze at the life that is offered each one of us. A life that offers us in this life “nuggets” of heaven, glimpses as through a glass darkly but in the future the joy of being enfolded in the love of God. In the picture John gives us in Revelation, I am greatly moved by the words of Jesus, seated on a throne: “I am making all things new”. That state of heavenliness, of Paradise, is not a state of completion but a state that is travelling forwards.
Sister Margaret spoke a great deal as I sat with her. Like many of us, I couldn’t catch all she was saying but there was one time when she said to me: “We are on our way”. I interpreted that as her talking about her journey towards death and gently replied: “Yes, you are on your way”. Sharp as a pin Sister Margaret came back with: “No, we are on our way!”. Of course, she was right. Sister Margaret did not travel alone but with numerous other souls, as indeed we all do. We all belong to the Communion of Saints. In the reading from Revelation it is very much a picture of people gathered in the Kingdom: “Now, the dwelling of God is with all people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death and no more mourning”. The picture John’s vision has given us here is one of enfolding, of belonging to God. Its embrace seems to belong to all peoples, in the past, the present and the future. That knowledge of the faithfulness of Jesus had been revealed to Sister Margaret; she said “Our Lord said he would never leave us to the end of the age. Even our Mother dies before we are ready”. The love of a Mother to her child, or of parent to child, is perhaps the strongest love; the love of God in Jesus towards us is beyond our imagining.
Beyond our imaginings, yes - but we do get
glimpses of God although, I was reminded, “we have to keep searching”.
Sister Margaret called them “nuggets” (which was a new word to me) for the
intangible insights which surprise and often puzzle us in their appearance. She
said: “The nuggets attach us to God and to one another”. It’s the communion
of saints again. We belong to one another each in our different ways. Ephesians
4.32: “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as
God, in Christ, also has forgiven you” .
I will be remembering those words and the connections between us past, present and future, as we lay Sister Margaret in the ground. Like the seed of which Jesus speaks; hidden but an integral part of God’s kingdom; present and to come. There will be some inevitable feelings of sadness but I hope we can get a glimpse of the “joy and delight” which Sister Margaret said she felt and which we saw on her face. That wonderful smile. Nothing has stopped. Nothing is for ever, except that delightful, ever flowing love of God in Jesus, for each one of us, figuratively holding hands with another, as “we are on our way”.
The Revd Chris Collinge, Companion SPB