Sub Dean - Canon Michael Rawson
For two and a half weeks we have been blessed by our Lent Art Installation, Pilgrimage; the work of the very talented artist Michelle Rumney
If you haven’t had chance to spend time encountering and savouring the installation then please do so after the service. During medieval times there was a custom of measuring to the saint. This involved having a piece of string, measured from your feet to your head which was then made into a candle and would burn for your eternal soul at a nearby abbey or cathedral. To celebrate the 850 anniversary of the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, Michelle measured 850 people here and at Canterbury. The twelve candles burning before the altar are made to the measurements of twelve people involved in pilgrimage. One is of Thomas Becket himself and another of our own much loved and much missed sister Marion Marples. Marion worked tirelessly to promote pilgrimage in general and pilgrimage to Canterbury and Santiago de Compostella in particular. The majority of the measuring of the saints twine were then tied together to form the veiling in front of the altar. This tying together reminds us of our interdependence and connectedness as human beings and as fellow pilgrims on the way. We are connected with one another through time and eternity. On the suspended white sheets is traced the map of the pilgrim’s way here from Southwark to Canterbury Cathedral.
In addition to the traditional custom of veiling altar during Lent, the notion of pilgrimage resonates clearly with our journey through Lent from Ash Wednesday through to Holy Week and the celebration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
Our first bible reading today takes us into the midst of the Exodus, of the people of Israel journeying in the desert. Although they were on a journey from slavery to freedom, they spent much of their time moaning and speaking against God and Moses; ‘there is no food and water, and we detest this miserable food.’ They got their just desserts for the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them. Moses’ response was to pray for the people and the Lord relented. They looked at the staff with the snake and they lived. The means of death became for them the journey to life and health.
A similar message comes from Jesus in our second reading, when he urges his followers, and urges us, to take up the cross and follow him on the journey to life and hope. I walked the Pilgrims’ Way from here to Canterbury in the summer of 2018 and one of the things that Marion suggested was that we carry everything we needed on our backs. There was to be no chance of sending luggage in advance. Her advice echoes that of Jesus when he says that ‘none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’ Carrying your life on your back soon helps you to realise what you need – what are the essentials – and what is nice to have but you can live without. The weight of the essentials means that you very soon jettison the nice to haves and the things that so easily possess us.
As we gaze on this thought-provoking art, mulling over the words of scripture that we have just heard, we are challenged to look at our lives and ponder what is truly of value and will last to eternal life and what we might let go of on our pilgrimage through life.