David Clues explains why we must follow Mary’s example and set aside our own insecurities and preoccupations
I am told that this pilgrimage has occasioned more than its fair share of eccentric sermons. In an effort not to disappoint, I have spent some time reflecting on the vision of Our Lady that gave rise to this place of pilgrimage and causes us to come today to rest at her feet, the vision of an unmanned boat entering the estuary carrying the image of the Mother of God. For reasons best left in the darker recesses of my mind, the story of the apparition of Our Lady of the Sea has caused one of those irritating melody worms to fix itself in my head. I cannot now picture the scene of the mysterious craft sailing into Boulogne without the accompanying soundtrack from the musical comedy ‘Follow the Fleet’. My text therefore is the celebrated lyric from Irving Berlin’s classic: ‘There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.’
Over the past few months, we have lost friends and colleagues whose journey has taken them across another stretch of water. Perhaps even more than in 1992, the calamity of their departure has cut deep. It is certainly true that although we have bid them farewell with love, we are weakened by their departure.
July’s General Synod may yet not prove determinative. For all the acrimonious build-up to the promised denouement of this tragicomedy, it seems that there may yet be more pages to come. But that is not all. Not content with boring great holes into the hull of that part of ship of the church we have been privileged to serve and cherish, the Bishops have in the last few days embarked upon a collision course with the government over its proposed changes to the law regarding marriage. I welcome a full and proper theological engagement over the nature and purpose of Christian marriage. But just listen to some of the pronouncements from the Church of England’s response to the Government consultation:
‘Many, within the Churches and beyond, dispute the right of any government to redefine an ages-old institution’; ‘Insistence on the traditional understanding…is not a case of knee-jerk resistance to change’.
At the Annunciation, the Angel said to Mary: ‘Do not be afraid’. And Mary said to the Angel: ‘Don’t make me laugh. You have no idea just how bad things are. I’ve lost some of my closest friends who don’t wish to be associated with me. I’ve not yet got any matrimonial guarantees from my fiancé – not even a Code of Practice which wouldn’t do anyway. And there’s no way this child can have a future in the place I call home.’ Actually, she didn’t say that, but she might have, if she had been an Anglo-Catholic.
Mary’s recorded response was the most extraordinary trusting acceptance of the fact that she had something to do which did not suit her, but which gave God the opportunity to do what needed to be done.
Embracing God’s gift
At the age of twelve, Jesus lingered in the Temple, and the caravan with Joseph and Mary began its journey homeward. In some considerable distress, Joseph and Mary scoured the streets of Jerusalem in search of their child. On finding him with the theologians of the day, Mary said to the child: ‘Where on earth have you been? I’ve had social services on the mobile. Forget all this theological nonsense. You should stick to carpentry’. OK, she didn’t, but she might have done.
Jesus did say to her: ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ And Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. Her recorded response was human and borne of panic. But being recalled to that moment when she was invited to loving obedience, she embraced God’s gift to her and trusted him to rekindle her understanding of what was required of her.
After Jesus’ trial and condemnation, Mary couldn’t bear to watch. She locked herself away at home and busied herself with menial chores, pretending that whatever might be going on outside, everything indoors was as it had ever been.
We know she didn’t. In fact, of all those called to the life-changing encounter and adventure of discipleship, she was one of the very few who had the guts to see it through to the end, to be there at the death in order to be there at the explosion of new life.
Discerning God’s purpose
Her whole life was abandonment to the will of him who called her. Her whole life was spent, not in self-absorbed anxiety for comfort and for security, but in the discernment of the traces of God’s purpose for the regeneration of his whole creation. A life filled with the grace of her Son, the Saviour, whose love is stronger than death. A life reflecting not her own insecurities and preoccupations, but reflecting her Son, the true and constant source of light and truth.
Today I invite you to fall in love again with the Lord Jesus. The mood music of our situation has rendered our harmonies dissonant and our conviction ill-tempered. But the image of Our Lady entering the estuary here and being carried to the shrine of this Basilica compels us who honour her not to shrink from the responsibility to reflect the light and truth of her Son. ND
A version of this article was originally
preached as the Sermon on the pilgrimage
to the Shrine of Our Lady of Boulogne