Rev. Andrew Cunnington
31st October 2021
Offering Hospitality to Jesus

Have you ever run a B&B?

I don’t mean when you’ve had family and friends staying overnight and you do a great big fry up for them in the morning.

I mean a proper B&B where you put a notice in the window of your front room which has the word “Vacancies” written on it and then on the reverse side it says “No Vacancies” and you just turn it round as appropriate.

One of my old school friends mum ran a B&B like that down in Sunny Worthing. She had two rooms – numbered “one” and “two” and they were always beautifully prepared ready to be used by the next guest arriving.

But Mrs G – let’s call her that to preserve her anonymity.

Mrs G was a particular sort of lady and when the vacancies sign was up she would spend a great deal of her day sitting behind the lace curtains in the said front room and if anyone came up the path who looked the slightest bit dodgy – well before the prospective guest could ring the doorbell, Mrs G had deftly changed the sign in the widow – from Vacancies – to No Vacancies.

And the guest would be turned away with great charm …” I’m afraid you couldn’t have read the sign in the window properly my dear!

If you were to ask me how we might define a saint – I think it would be – someone who offered hospitality to Jesus even though they didn’t realise it at the time.

At first sight, the little reading from John’s Gospel which describes part of the raising of Lazarus from the dead seems a strange choice for today.

If you read the whole story it goes on for a total of 44 verses – the longest account of any of the miracles of Jesus and that being the case you might have thought that Lazarus was someone really special, with excellent credentials for sainthood.

But we know nothing about Him until he is ill and at the point of death and he says not a single word from the beginning to the end of the Gospel.

Lazarus does nothing to warrant special attention. He is a silent man. A character on the edge of things and seemingly overshadowed by his more articulate sisters Martha and Mary – who always seem to have something to say.

And yet, and yet, when Jesus comes to the tomb and sees Lazarus is dead – he breaks down. He has no words to say and nor does the bible.

Why didn’t you come earlier badger the sisters. But Jesus has no answer to give them or anyone at that point. It just says “Jesus wept”.

But there is one thing Lazarus did together with his sisters. He offered our Lord B&B. Literally gave Him overnight accommodation out there at Bethany together with His sisters.

Today we remember members of our church family who have died since the outbreak of the pandemic. Those we all knew but maybe have not had a chance to say farewell properly too – and there is one thing that each of these dear souls held in common. In one way or another, they each offered hospitality to Jesus whether they realised it at the time or not – because they cared for his body here on earth. This church, its members and beyond here.

In quiet unassuming ways they made room for Jesus in their lives and in so doing they were blessed, and in so doing they were a blessing to others and are an example to us who remain now.

Jill Hiley didn’t just clean this church – she caressed it – there was a rhythm to the way Jill swept and polished and wiped and hoovered– as if she were touching the surface of something sacred or someone special. Her offer of tea and coffee to anyone at any time meant that whilst I have my altar here – she presided with equal reverence at the one over there.

Nina Hills was a wonderful listener – if she asked you how you were she would be totally attentive to what you said, wide eyes focussing on you with compassion and she ministered healing grace not just when she was on duty in the surgery – there was a continuity between her work and wider life – It was a vocation – meeting Jesus in people when they were closer than they would have liked to their own cross.

Lilian Spacey working alone with flower arrangements – creating spaces of beauty around the altar for us all to gaze upon – as quiet as Lazarus was Lilian seemed but a reverence at her finger tips and in her smile a little glimpse of heaven.

Janet Webb – only for a few years with us and in the choir – I loved the way she would come into church before a service with a spring in her step – even when walking was a struggle – she would come striding down to the vestry – really looking forward to singing praises to her Lord – rolling up her sleeves in prayer and praise.

Daphne Allington – always ready with her red lipped smile which was all grace and courtesy and what I remember most is when giving Communion to Daphne – she would never mumble her response – but with quite a loud and confident voice she would ring out her “AY MEN”.

Helen Shaw saw this as her family church and loved the Wednesday morning – coming early – the first to arrive quite often and so at home sitting quietly just inside the chapel – staring at the altar, the window, the sacrament as if at one with Her Lord.

Jean Hyder was such an unassuming person – I can hear her saying – don’t you say anything about me in that sermon – but her life was entwined with helping many people who others might have forgotten.

And Pamela Barrett – sitting with her in the later times in her life – whenever I has some little reflection to give her on the reading when I took her communion – she would lean forward attentively as if still wanting to find out more about this man who had been the foundation of her life forever.

None of these great people got up in front of us very much. None of these pushed themselves forward in any way. None of these saw themselves as being of very much importance. They did not wear robes nor were their ministries seen as accredited by the Church of England in any way.

All of these had the quality of Lazarus. All of these offered hospitality to Jesus with some part of themselves and so Jesus weeps with us in our loss of them. He has no words to say about these any more than he did of Lazaurs – but he enters into the space beyond words of justification and explanation to share the experience of our loss as if it were His own.

Lazarus means – the one God helped – and I would say all our dear friends would have know such help in their lives and saw the love God had for them as the spur for them to care for us in this place as they did.

And you bring others here today – who may not have worshipped here – but whose memory is special and precious because they helped to form the people you are and the people we are becoming – not mentioned by name – but precious to you and precious to Christ in the same way as His Bethany friends.

Many of us including me – bring friends and partners and Mothers and Fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts into such a remembrance as this.

Mrs G’s B&B and the swiftness of her hand to switch the sign from vacancy to no vacancy. From welcome to keep your distance. This is not to vilify her in any way- she was a lovely person , but it is to remember how easy it is to only offer hospitality when it suits and how we need the example of those we think about today – the angels and archangels of whom we sing – we need their prayers to keep us open to the calling of sainthood in our own lives.

JOHN 11: 32-44