Real life is something so unusual that we barely recognise it.
Occasionally, we get a glimpse of it and it touches us with awe; the birth of a baby for instance, or listening to a perfectly performed piece of music or beholding beauty in nature, or in a gesture of kindness or in a moment of grace.
All of these things have about them a combination of the ordinary and the completely mysterious that pings the chords of the mind and heart.
In labour you know that a baby is coming, but that tells you so little about the completely new character that is emerging into the world. Even though today parents are given amazing pictures of their unborn child, when they are born they still arrive as a complete surprise – utterly familiar and utterly strange.
Today has that feel for me. I have known for months and months that on this day I would be celebrating my final service in the parish. Yet I cannot take it in – real life.
I have had the privilege for 11 years to be Rector here – living and worshipping with you at St Edmund’s and All Saints, and in sharing so much with you – from communion services at home with those who can’t get to church, being a part of the community in our amazing schools, in baptisms, weddings and funerals, in all the brilliant groups we run for children and young people, prayer groups, choir practices, in so many social events drinking Pimms, watching synchronised dancing with wheel barrows and sending teddies zipping down from the tower on a wire!
These are all everyday things in this parish – real life – and it’s only when you start thinking back, you begin to realize just how weird we all really are.
And also just how wonderful real life can be.
I saw a film recently called Lady Bird about a young girl growing up in a small town. It was a funny, quirky film. The girl argued constantly with her mother, and she just wanted to get away from her home town – to really start living her life. She was certain that real life was happening somewhere else.
Towards the end of the film she’s talking to her head teacher at school, who says to Lady Bird – You clearly love this town don’t you?
What makes you say that? Says Lady Bird.
Well, you write about it so passionately.
I guess I just pay attention, says Lady Bird.
And of course when she leaves – she sees so clearly that she does indeed love her town and it has helped shape who she is. She doesn’t in fact leave it behind, for in so many ways it goes with her.
Now that I am leaving this place I’m acutely aware of how living here with all of you has shaped me.
And in paying attention to what is precious here – the amazing people in this place, the love, the service, the laughter and the kindness – I’m sad to go, but I am confident in you, that this place will thrive and flourish. And all that I have learnt and experienced here – with you – will go with me.
For this is a community of faith, this is the body of Christ.
I value all that I have learned in this community of faith – and I want you to value what we have here too.
When Mary meets Jesus in the garden in our gospel reading she is obviously in a state, her eyes are filled with tears, she is anxious and fearing the worst about what could have happened to Jesus’ body.
Yet even when he’s there standing right by her side, she does not recognise him.
She just does not know him. And the simple explanation must be true: that real life is something so unusual that we barely recognise it.
Mary was passionate, she was the first one to see the risen Christ – but even she took a while to see what was right in front of her eyes.
Look at what you have here. Real life in this parish.
So value our life lived together.
We run up against real life each and every moment of each and every day – and yet so often we fail to see how precious it really is. And we don’t recognize that Christ is with us.
I asked you to bring something along today, a sign of how you belong to this community. And look at all the amazing, diverse and frankly strange things that have been placed upon the altar.
These things are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing this community. So much is done here, so much is given and so much has been learned and experienced – together.
When we pray for each other and for all who live and work in this parish, when we take our turn on the cleaning rota, when we take the time to look after each other and the stranger – we are declaring we are a community, a community of faith.
I want to thank you for all you have given to me, all you have taught me and shared with me.
Thank you for real life lived here – it’s coming with me when I go.
God bless you all.