Sub-Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
Ten years ago I spent a wonderful six weeks sabbatical in Sweden
Wakefield Cathedral has a flourishing link with Skara Cathedral and as part of that I lived and worked there for a month, taking part in the life of the Swedish Lutheran Church and enjoying all that a Skandanavian country has to offer. So there was plenty of outdoor life, eating herring, potatoes and sour cream, the occasion shot of vodka and many hours of wonderful Swedish hospitality.
During my stay I visited the beautiful university city of Uppsala, just half an hour north of the capital, Stockholm. It's an elegant, relaxed city which is home for the national offices of the Swedish Lutheran Church and its cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop. The cathedral is a good example of European Gothic with Swedish flair. Behind the high altar is the lady chapel, or what was the lady chapel for in the sixteenth century King Gustav Vasa was interred in the chapel and our Lady was unceremoniously removed!
As I walked round to the chapel out of the corner of my eye I saw a slightly dishevelled woman dressed in a long blue coat, standing motionless but gazing towards the former lady chapel. I ignored her for a while but then took a closer look and realised that she was made from wax and was in fact a statue in honouring Mary. She looked so ordinary and yet her contemplative gaze was far from ordinary. You could have interpreted it as a slightly peevish, 'That used to be my chapel.' But for me it showed a very human Mary looking towards her Son and guiding others to do the same.
The way we depict Mary has a great influence on what we believe about Mary and her place in God's plan for the salvation of the world. The image of her at Uppsala was one of a very ordinary woman. She could have been my mum or my next door neighbour. She had no crown of stars on her head nor a sceptre in her hand. Here is Mary, the mother of Jesus and mother of us all, rather than Mary Queen of heaven.
For me, the example of Mary gives us hope. Hope that inspite of all the signs to the contrary, Christ has overcome the world and turned it on its head. Hope that God can work in us and through us, despite all our flaws and human frailty. Hope that God is always with us when the future seems uncertain and we're not quite sure which way to turn. When Mary said ‘Yes’ to God's invitation to become the mother of his Son she cannot have imagined where that would lead her, what pressures it would put her under and that she would need to place all her trust in God for the future rather than in the certainty of her life thus far.
Perhaps that speaks to each one of us today. Each of us is called, like Mary, to live by faith and not by certainty; to gaze on Christ and to draw strength and hope from his presence in our lives as he draws us into the loving heart of God. That is truly good news worth celebrating and sharing with those around us.
When Mother Teresa of Calcutta died, the community had to elect a new leader. They chose Sister Nirmala. When she was interviewed by the press she was asked how she felt about trying to succeed a saint; they were big sandals to fill. She thought for a moment and then replied. 'When I think about my own abilities and my own frailties, then I fail. When I look to the Lord and know that he is always with me, then I think, yes, perhaps I can.'
That was true for Mary. May it also be true for us this day, tomorrow and as we journey into God’s future.