Revd Canon Wendy Robins - Canon Chancellor
The air is crisp and quite cold and the sun rises gently behind the backdrop of smoking fires around which people are sitting and upon which some are cooking
People are wrapped in blankets and the day is beginning. There is an air of expectancy as more and more people begin to arrive and the vast grassy area fills up. People from all over Zimbabwe are gathering for the Bernard Mizeki festival and it will be a long, colourful, song filled day. Bernard Mizeki was the first Zimbabwean martyr and saint and one of the saints of the church that we remember today as we celebrate the feast of All Saints.
Bernard Mizeki Day on 18 June and the celebrations around the life of Arthur Shearly Cripps on the first Saturday of August each year follow the same pattern. Large numbers of people gather together and they sing and praise God for all that God has done for them in the past year. They lament too the things that are hard and yet in a land torn with political and economic difficulty the overwhelming feeling is one of joy and of love for God. Their faith is so incredibly important to them and shapes all that they do and is no little part of their willingness to share what little they have with each other. No matter how many times I have been to Zimbabwe I never fail to be humbled by their hospitality to us and to each other and the food which is produced is always amazing despite the shortages that there have been throughout the years that I have visited. (If you want to see some of the day you can find 2022s on YouTube.)
As a result of our Link with the Diocese of Masvingo and the links between the areas and three other Dioceses in Zimbabwe a trip was arranged to the holy Land for clergy from this Diocese and from Zimbabwe. Whilst we were there, we visited the beautiful Antonio Barluzzi church situated on the top of the Mount of the Beatitudes. It is in a beautiful garden, high over the city with wonderful views and all around the garden on brown Franciscan stones are the words of the beatitudes which we have just heard read. They are a bit in need of attention and repair - or at least they were the last time that I saw them - but they are very moving as you walk around the garden which also has mosaics of the loaves and the fishes.
The beatitudes - it seems to me - not only sum up the tenets of the life that we should all live but tell us something of the way in which the saints we remember today lived their lives. They exemplify how we should be too and by reflecting upon them and the lives of the saints we can be helped to know how we should live.
On Friday at Morning Prayer, we remembered Simon and Jude and Canon Jeremy pointed out that they are mostly remember for who they are not: Simon, not Peter and Judas, not Iscariot. He suggested that, as much as we can and do learn from the saints of the church, we can and should learn too from those who are not so famous those who are ‘more like us,’ with whom we live our lives.
In the times that I have visited Zimbabwe I have learned so much from the faith of those whom I have met. The people of Masvingo are struggling so hard for most things. The economy is in continued decline, the levels of inflation are extraordinary and their currency is worth less and less. They have little food in the shops and the effect of climate change is very real. Masvingo Diocese is largely rural and relies on boreholes which cease to work as the water table gets lower and deepening them is very expensive. That means that the schools - which have been so important in ensuring that the children and their families are fed - cannot grow the crops and raise the animals that they have been relying on and the feeding programmes that they have been providing have run out of money. The situation is, frankly, dire and that is why we are asking for your help today. After the service during coffee, please pick up a leaflet with some details and costings, watch the videos about the Cathedral feeding programme and one of the schools and please consider whether you could begin to give regularly to our Link or maybe make a one off donation (we even have a contactless giving machine for you to use!). But as much as giving is important so is prayer. So, please add Masvingo and its people to your prayer list.
Life here has been and will continue to be difficult for many people and yet life for others in Zimbabwe and elsewhere is even harder. As we follow the saints who have gone before us and light our way, we should seek to see how we can best use the resources that we have.
As the Bernard Mizeki Festival draws to a close the people leave the grounds down a rutted track and coaches and cars return home to their towns and villages. Many will drive through the night and yet be in church again the next morning. They leave fortified by the joy of fellowship, of praising God and being renewed and inspired once again, by his life. Bernard Mizeki is very special to the people of Zimbabwe and many people here will have a saint whose life and work especially inspires them. The Saints who have gone before us can light our path and help us to know more about how we should live.
As we remember those who have gone before us in faith and hear their stories and how they lived their lives for God may we be inspired by their courage, generosity, love and faithfulness and by the works that they did and seek to serve ourselves in the way in which God would wish us to. Amen