Anne Currie
2nd October 2016
Blown Away!

High up on the battlements the wind was howling and the rain was lashing across the sound in a horizontal sort of fashion. White horses were riding across the sea and every so often the wind would whip up a sort of whirlwind of spray and send it scurrying across the water.

The wind was blowing so hard that it was hard to stand up against it… peeking through the gaps in the crenellations, if you were to be called to lose an arrow against pirate raiders, then the wind would surely carry it off course… a shot from the cannon would not fare much better…

The only defence you could really rely upon was solid walls three metres thick, perched high up on a cliff face surrounded on three sides by the sea…

It really was like that… one by one the more hardy of us pilgrims ducked through the door to the battlements of Duart castle on the island of Mull to get a taste of the elements… and the view.

Some of you may have seen Fr. Andrew’s FB post about being blown away by Iona, and wondering is this going to be a ‘what I did on my pilgrimage talk? Well of course it is!

Can’t spend a week like the last one without coming back to share some of it with you. There are many, many stories, we all have some… and I’m sure that they will come out over the following weeks and months. But a common theme will be…. the weather! An autumn equinox storm to be exact – south westerly gales with plenty of rain! Which sadly meant that due to the ferries cancelling afternoon sailings we could not spend much time on Iona itself.

Odd person that I am, I rather enjoy wild weather… I find the wind and the rain strangely exhilarating

So I should have been in my element during our pilgrimage to Iona last week!

And I was… and yes it was disappointing that we were only able to spend a couple of hours on the island itself…. but what an intense experience that was!

I shared with the rest of the group on the last evening, that I’d felt a particular parallel between ourselves and Colomba and his community as we set foot upon the island. It was pouring with rain, it was windy… a set of weather conditions which are by no means unusual for that area… so those first monks may well have landed in exactly that sort of weather….

But for them there would have been no sturdy stone Abbey to welcome them at first…. just crude wooden or canvas shelters, built by them… which may have been frequently damaged by the south westerly gales that often blow through.

A shared hardship can often strengthen and bring together a community… as we all walked through the downpour and up to the Abbey we shared a little of that, especially those whose waterproofs didn’t quite live up to their name.

It’s a very special place and we had the great privilege of being able to have our own service of Holy Communion there… it was a special time of quietness, prayer and sharing, not only of the Eucharist with one another, but also with a couple of people from another tour party… and all in the presence of the stones of the Abbey, many of which date back to the original building… but during those years have absorbed the prayers and praises of community and pilgrims alike.

Rocks and stones are a major feature of those islands… towering hills all around, huge boulders strewn around the landscape by retreating glaciers and so many buildings made from the local stone…

Thick walls were a feature of many buildings… in our hotel the outside wall in my room was a good 18inches thick… and this in a building certainly built within the last 50 years.

The guide at Duart Castle was keen to point out the depth of the walls in the building… they range from just over two metres to three metres thick…. built to keep out raiders and enemies and also the weather.

Standing in teeth of the sixty mile an hour gale outside the walls (this was by no means the wildest of weather that they experience on the headland), just standing there and be buffeted just for a short while, makes you appreciate just how much battering those walls take on a regular basis.

We were told that the walls had been restored with cement during the 1990s, but was now being redone as cement was quite the wrong thing to use… it should be lime mortar if they wanted the walls to remain standing. So I asked a pilgrim who is expert in these matters to explain why.

Cement will set hard and stiff, it will not move as the building flexes when the weather buffets against the walls. It will over time begin to crack, which will let water in… if the water freezes it will expand and make the cracks bigger, over time this expansion and contraction will loosen the stones and they will tumble!

Lime mortar however, has a certain amount of flexibility and moves with the building… result, no cracks and your walls stand firm and straight.

This business of walls and flexibility strikes similarities with the readings that we have heard today….

Our readings today are talking about what our faith is based upon… what is the bedrock the foundation…. Paul describes it well as the prophets, the apostles with Christ as the cornerstone… the one stone that all others are measured from.

Jesus is upset at the moneychangers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple. I don’t think it was the actual selling of the animals that he was cross about, after all he, as a practising Jew, would have bought them himself for that purpose… but these animals could only be bought within the temple precincts, they could only be bought with special money to be got from the money changers…. whose rates of exchange were set between themselves and the authorities… the people had no choice but to go to them. They were probably being exploited by both the money changers and the animal sellers.

This was a practice that was ring fenced, rigid and not to be changed… until one man, called Jesus walked through the door and caused a right storm.

How often do we joke about things being ‘done like this for the last 150years, no need to change it now.’

Is the mortar that holds our Christian community together flexible like lime mortar that moves with what is thrown at it… can we move with the times? Can we as a church both nationally and locally make the changes that will keep Christianity alive and well for the next two thousand years…. or are held together with rigid cement that holds everything in a just as it was and always will be… but in reality is steadily crumbling away as the stones begin to loosen and fall apart… as the structure is not and cannot be flexible.

I rather hope that we were more like Saint Colomba and his community… open to the elements and the world, anyone can come in.. but together gradually building a structure on firm foundations, held together with that most flexible of mortar – love for one another – that can go on expanding to admit anyone who wants to be loved by God, and walk in the way of Christ Jesus.

I guess most of this sermon has come about because of my experiences of the weather at Duart Castle on Mull rather than Iona. But isn’t that what pilgrimage is about… meeting Jesus along the way… finding him in all sorts of places, walking round the corner of a castle wall and standing there together wind blowing your hair straight back. Or standing on the deck of the ferry, rain streaming down our faces and laughing at the raindrops…

Praying in a stone abbey – Jesus there, with us at the very heart of our pilgrimage as we broke bread and shared wine in a circle around the altar…

Maybe we didn’t achieve all that we set out to… but God provided other experiences for us. I haven’t even begun to tell you of rainbows and waterfalls! Another time maybe.

Blown away by Iona? You bet!

Ephesians 2.19-22
John 2.13-22