Rev. Andrew Cunnington
1st February 2015
Looking For God to Fall Into Your Lap

I am sitting on the floor cross legged, and next to me there’s a little girl dressed like a fairy. On the other side of me, a boy in a cubs uniform has chocolate cake around his mouth. There are about twelve of us in all and we are sitting in circle. Behind us Mums and Dads hover and in a corner, one Dad sits, as if controlling the universe, with his fingers ready to press “Play” on an old spool to spool tape recorder.

And the game is…Pass The Parcel…! And many of us will have sat in a circle like that one, or witnessed our children so doing, and hoped and prayed that when the music stops, the present, in my day wrapped in newspaper, was going to land in our lap and we would have time to pull it all off and claim the gift for our own.

In this world of so much bad news and complexity, not to mention our personal heartaches of loss today, I’m sitting in a circle as if I was a little boy again, praying for the gift that is God to come falling into my lap, so that I can feel it and hold it, as if it were my own.

One of the privileges of being a Vicar is to be able to make an annual Retreat. “It sounds like something you do when you know you’re losing the battle” said a non church friend of mine, but it is meant to be a space of time to be with God and not have any distraction from His presence, so that you can come roaring back to parish life, like a man renewed.

I took myself off to Sherborne for the week and spent as much time as I could in the beautiful Abbey there.

I crept in on my first morning ready to join in Morning Prayer. At 8am all the lights were on but there was no one at home. The place was deserted and so still it made my ears ring. I sat alone in the vast nave and allowed myself to be drawn into God through the arches, the pillars and the lovely windows and the huge open space of no people and no noise.

Just a little bit self conscious that the Vicar would come in and wonder if I was an early morning troublemaker.

I would challenge you, no matter how you are feeling about your faith today, I would challenge you to sit there as I did and not become completely overwhelmed by God. I am so used to people and places filling my spiritual life, it was like moving from a swimming pool to an ocean.

God not in stories, in words or even music, but in the massive open space and the sheer silence.

And I did think of Simeon and Anna from our Gospel reading and this service of Candlemas. And I wondered if Simeon and Anna sat as I sat in Sherborne Abbey, with this great big overwhelming God, and having a sense that they needed God to come down from the rafters of that temple, to step out of the pages of the scripture they knew by heart and to fall into their laps, like a gift suddenly given as soon as the music stops.

So last Tuesday, The door of the Abbey opened and I at once felt awkward and exposed. It was a Mum with a baby in a pushchair and she had come out of the rain. The wheel of the pushchair squeaked, the plastic of her raincoat rustled. The child was restless and had to be lifted out and some toy dropped on the floor with a bang. I sat gazing up at this glorious window and she just crossed in front of me without a by your leave.

Was it like that for Simeon and Anna for they were deeply spiritual people? Did Jesus and Mary and Joseph come into the temple shrouded in light and accompanied by angel song do you think, or were they a distraction to begin with? And so I thanked God for sending the Mum out of the rain because there is only so much that I can take of an overwhelming God, if he is going to make any sense to me, He has to fall into my lap, and He comes as plain and as ordinary as a newspaper wrapped parcel tied up with string. Those two sheltering from the rain.

I can be quite a naughty boy on Retreat. I can’t stay spiritual all day and so I do take some lighter reading. I know you won’t tell the Bishop!

So I was reading “The Lives of Stella Bain” by Anita Shreve as well as more improving theological tomes and part of that book is set in the World War One battlefields and for a while centres on a man and a woman who are both ambulance drivers ferrying the sick, dead and dying from the front line to the hospital.

Their work was terrifying and the two of them resolved that they would look for at least one beautiful thing in each day and share it with each other.

A single flower growing on the edge of a trench. The gold cross around a soldier’s neck. A wedding ring lying in the mud. A sudden moment of blue sky glimpsed through gunsmoke.

It isn’t put like this in the book, but God falling down from the sky and into their laps, and not as bullets and shrapnel, but as something else. Unexpected beauty. Like Simeon and Anna, like the mum and her child in a pushchair.

It’s two weeks to Lent and I have a challenge for you. What about some time during the forty days of Lent, to come in here, or better still find your way into a church or cathedral where no one knows you, and sit there silently and alone and expect to be overwhelmed with God in the empty space around you.

Just once. No matter that you will feel conspicuous. No matter that if you were to do that here, people would think “ I wonder what the matter is with…”

Because I think this, that we need to come into contact with the God beyond ourselves before we can recognise the God who is right by our side. And we can use Simeon and Anna as our template. And so it was I was drawn from the tracery on the ceiling of the Abbey and God up there, down to the mum fretting over her toddler in the buggy, and to see that as holiness.

And so to one more thing and it concerns this morning’s procession.

We formed a circle of candlelight around the church and we can say it was very pretty and lovely, for a moment a chance to be overwhelmed by God, but it’s each one of us that holds those candles, us and our rag bag of stories and hopes and fears and heartaches, and from each of us, and towards each of us comes that sense of God falling down into our laps, and in that way we bless each other and in that way we make him incarnate to each other.

So I am looking for a thing of beauty, maybe it was you and the candle you held and the person next to you. And maybe it’s when we expect such things of each other that we truly become the Body of Christ.

God in the space beyond us. God in the space beside us. God in the Space within us. Father Son and Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s how Simeon and Anna began to see it.

Christmas Carols tend to march into the sunset by Candlemas, but the second verse of Once in Royal David’s City, is about all this. His falling into our laps and our discovery that the gift of his presence is truly beautiful:

He came down to earth from heaven, Who is god and lord of all. And his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall. With the poor and mean and lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy.

LUKE 2 :22-40