Yesterday was passion Sunday, the day we consciously start walking the road to the cross and resurrection with Jesus. The readings at morning prayer today both feature a woman of ill repute. The first is Rahab, the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies before the conquest of Jericho. She is praised for her courage and her family saved from the invading forces. There is no mention of her lifestyle. It is the wisdom and courage of her inner life that saves her. (Joshua 2:1-14) The second reading was that short story in St. John’s Gospel of the woman caught in the act of adultery for whom Jesus only has words of acceptance. ‘Go your way and sin no more’ (John 8:1-11)
The Psalm for today is that most familiar
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.”
I pray that may be so. The more we meditate on these words the more wonderful they are. The second stanza never fails to move me and sometimes it is the joys in life that need that presence of God as well as the really dark places….wherever we find or stray into the darkest of valleys or when we feel out of our depth, we are not alone.
Sometimes we forget that we are to be there for others at those times too. Those lovely words in the story of Lazarus also come to mind “Come let us go and weep with him” We have each other. Don’t forget to hold on to those who really care.
One of the gaps in the last entry needs to be filled if you wish to understand me.
The teenager that was Ann was lucky to have found her faith. From the age of 8 I had known I wanted to teach and believed that God wanted me to do so and so I had to get there. I went to four different secondary schools in my quest to build the foundations I needed in terms of education and I consciously sought those things . My pleasures lay in music. I belonged to a choir that specialised in medieval motets. The choir master was also my RE teacher and in due course I became godmother to one of his children. I had piano lessons paid for by my great aunt Lily who was responsible for much of the enrichment I had. She took me to my first opera, my first ballet, and introduced me to Jane Austin. She walked me through the ruins of whole areas of London, stepping over the bricks and mortar and avoiding the tram lines……I became a Queen’s guide, Head Girl, in one school, Senior prefect in another. In every case I was given responsibility. In church I was running the Sunday School by the age of 16 and acting as server and taperer in the liturgy.
I suppose we were Prayer Book Catholics but I also went to Youth for Christ and to the Baptist church in the evenings with my friends.
However I have put all this under the heading of Passiontide because much of my energy was expended in avoiding some of the sadness at home.
Now we would call it autism, then no one new about it. Children were just badly behaved, adults were ‘difficult.’ I found a letter after his death from my paternal grandmother to her husband where she expressed the hope that marriage would ‘mellow him.’ referring to my father.
I can now forgive my father . I now understand about autism; then I did not.
Dad was more than difficult. Things always had to be done his way….. always his permission was sought. I conformed. My small wish to go to one of the new coffee bars in town was refused. I conformed.
Both my brothers suffered more than me.’Why can’t you be more like Ann?” (said at home and at school) Their perfectly normal teenage years would have been easier if I had rebelled too . I did not. I conformed.
Dad could lose his temper and I vividly remember standing between him and one of my brothers when he was about to hit him. There was much else but I know it has left me with an enormous self control and deep dislike of conflict. I have learned to cope with it. These skills can be taught!!
My mothers diary, read after her death, told me of her feelings. I was 22 when she died.
Dad of course was not all bad. I loved him very much. I was ‘his girl’ The prized daughter who was doing well at school but there were times then where that valley full of shadows got very dark. It all deepened my faith and I had a small rotund very Welsh vicar for whom I shall always be grateful.
I also had a part time job in a local newsagents, owned by a family friend. Great excitement, I was earning and one Saturday I was given a five pound note with which to open my very own bank account. I am still with the same bank!
Dad never did accept the theology I wished to study. ‘Waste of a good education, ‘why not teach a proper subject’ ? ‘Time all that nonsense was put behind you;’ but he was still proud that I had become a teacher.
The strain of autism runs down the male line in my family even now although both sets of the latest parents are handling or have handled it so well that the outcomes are very different. Advice has been sought, support given and there is love and understanding and a real patience. It will be very different for them as these latest of the boys grow up.
So where does this leave all of us in this Passiontide. Most of us at some point in our lives walk through hard times or times of feeling rejected or hurt. Most of us can choose what we do with these times and whilst accepting that some people end up feeling so damaged that they can’t exercise choice, others can choose to put the bad things behind them and even accept that there are places in the mess that such things leave behind, that are good. We can choose to learn from them and even use them to help support others.
I don’t know what the woman in John 8 did after she met Jesus but one thing is certain she will have been changed by the experience.
We can choose to see our need for forgiveness and ask for it.
Who knows? Ann at 15 might have been an insufferable prig. Who knows?
One thing I do know is that God does not make a big fuss of our sins. He is very good at turning us around if we will but let him, he excels in giving us the strength to cope. He sees the strong points in us even as we show our weaknesses. I am sure that Jericho’s prostitute was a woman of strength and it is that which God chooses to see.
As Jesus yields his body into the hands of others he retains the strength to say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” The evil is overcome with good.
May we too be forgiven for those sins we do in ignorance as well as those sins we know about. May we know that God can use all our experience for good if we will but let him.