Feats of St Anne & St Joachim Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
26th July 2020
I never read today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel without thinking of R.S. Thomas’s lovely poem, The Bright Field. Many of you will know it. It goes like this.
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
What this poem recognises, just as our Gospel reading does, is that the astonishing grace and power of God is often present in the ordinary and undramatic, even obscure. In the kingdom of God, people and events that seem insignificant have great hidden potential, just as a tiny mustard seed becomes a huge tree and a pinch of yeast causes dough to rise.
I think this is the perfect theme for our patronal festival, because, when it comes to the crunch, we have to admit that we know very little about Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary. They are not mentioned in the Bible and the earliest reference to them in other literature comes from the mid-second century. What the various sources and legends have in common is that they describe Mary’s parents as a couple who lived simply and frugally. Two ordinary people, in other words, whom it would be easy to overlook. How startling, and yet how splendid, that the grandparents of Jesus should be people of no celebrity or social status.
The images of Anne and Mary that we have in the church reflect the quiet everyday intimacy of a mother and child. The statue shows Anne tenderly embracing the toddler Mary, perhaps having just bathed her and plaited her hair. And I love the stained-glass window which shows the young Mary learning to read at her mother’s knee, with a tortoise under their feet. For me that mysterious tortoise stands for the long patient quiet hours that Anne spent with her daughter, which, unknown to them both, were preparing Mary for that moment when she would be asked to make a decision that would change not only her own life but the fate of the world.
Another poet, George Herbert, described prayer as 'heaven in ordinary'. And my prayer on this Feast Day is that we will indeed, through God's holy Spirit, be given eyes to see the treasure in the bright field, and to find in the soil of our ordinary, everyday lives the seeds of his wonderful grace. Amen.