Reflection for St. Mary Magdalen - Our Community Foundation Day - 22nd July 2022
I have been thinking about courage this week, the courage to face the fears that I, and no doubt all of us, find lurking deep inside. For me, these fears range from the global, through the national, the local and down to my most personal fears. Is there any hope for us when it feels as if the human race is intent on making the earth uninhabitable? When war is disrupting the globally interconnected supply of food and fuel? What is going to happen in this country as we struggle with economic melt-down and cope with all the difficulties caused by this global situation? For us as a small and fragile religious community in this diocese of Rochester, what does the future hold?
And for each one of us personally, how is my life going to unfold in the coming years? The young generation face a future that does not promise the personal prosperity and security that so many of us in the West have enjoyed for many decades and whose benefits we had expected to spread to more and more people. For those of us who are older the inevitable fears about our health, the impact of ageing and letting go of activities that have given us our sense of worth loom large. If we truly open to our fears, it can be a grim and overwhelming picture.
How do we live with all of this without sinking into despair? One way of course is to simply lose ourselves in distraction, to continue ‘life as usual’ for as long as we can and to ignore the fear. But another way is the way of Mary Magdalen, one of the few who had the courage to remain with Jesus right to the end. She was at the foot of the cross, watching her hopes die as the man who had brought her healing and new life died a horrible death, condemned as a criminal. She must have felt deep fear for her future, surely she was herself in danger as a follower of this dangerous man? Yet, unlike so many of his disciples, she stayed there with all her grief and fear along with Mary his mother, the beloved disciple and a few other women. The others had fled, fearing for their lives and grieving for the death of their hope.
Then on the morning after the Sabbath she was the first to the tomb, surely a very dangerous thing to be doing. But her love and her grief drew her there, and in the midst of her despair she met the risen Jesus. He came to her, called her name and in that moment she found the world transformed. Jesus was alive, had passed through death and emerged into a new life. Not the same life that he had before yet alive and present to her, even though she could not take hold of him. By having the courage to stay present to the full horror of all that had happened, by not running away, she was there to be the first witness to the resurrection. All the dangers, the loss of Jesus’ physical presence were still there but all was changed in knowing that he was with her in a new way.
On our Foundation Day we also look to the courageous example of those who founded this community and all those who faced so many challenges in restoring the religious life within the Church of England. Jessie Moncrieff, who became Mother Agatha our Foundress, had to face the dismay of her Scottish Presbyterian family when she joined the Episcopal Church and entered a religious community. She later left that community, along with Sister Paula, and founded the Community of the Holy Comforter which eventually evolved into our community. They were originally, like many others, engaged in charitable work amongst the poor and needy. The religious context was not one her family approved of but at least the work made sense. A much more courageous step came later when this community lost their funding for their work in east London. When the needs were still so great it might have seemed obvious that they should seek other supporters for this practical work. Yet they chose instead to embrace a hidden monastic life of prayer. I realise there was a whole lot of church politics tangled up in this decision but it was also a work of God.
They surely, like all of us who commit to a life of prayer, had to face the question “what good is that when the needs are so great?”. Yes, the needs are great but I believe that first we have to be fighting the spiritual battles that will overcome the forces of evil that give rise to the injustice and poverty we see throughout the world. This was a battle won by Jesus on the cross but is still being worked through. It is important that Christians are engaged on the ground working to relieve suffering but I believe it is also important that all Christians are engaged in a deep work of prayer, facing our fears in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Like Mary Magdalen we are called to be courageous, to stay there, not to run from fear and suffering but rather to stand at the foot of the cross and to wait at the tomb where our hopes lie dead. As we stay there the risen Christ comes to us, transforms our fears and draws us into new life. As the spirit of his love flows through us not only are we changed personally but the world is changed too. Those situations we hold in our hearts are touched and even places of need known only to God are touched and transformed. As monastics, and as oblates of a monastic community, we witness to the power of simple presence to transform the world. In our courageous presence to God, to one another and to all the needs of the world we will come to know what must be done, acting not from fear but from a deep love that transfigures our actions into the actions of God.Mother Anne - 22nd July 2022