This is a day to celebrate St. Mary and of how her life as our patron is in some weaved with our life as the body of her son in this holy place.
And this is a holy place, many of you have told of how within these walls you feel enfolded in love, the ‘Whitkirk Blanket’ is how some describe it.
Perhaps that feeling is something about the prayers of the faithful seeping into the walls over the years and creating a place where the veil between heaven and earth, however crazy it might sound, seems that little bit thinner.
Holy Places like this are special and thinking about Mary as we are today another special place came to mind – The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
If you’ve ever been, as I know some of you have, you’ll know something of the story, of how Lady Richeldis saw a vision of the house where Mary was invited to become Christ’s mother. That vision was made real in a small building, the Holy House which became the centre of the Shrine.
In one way the Anglo-Catholicism and Marian devotion of Walsingham is all a bit weird and I’d always say don’t take some of it too seriously. Yet in another and I wouldn’t want to be precise about what, there is something special about the place, little miracles happen there, once tired faith is rejuvenated and renewed.
It seems a strange coincidence but a spring of water, a symbol of new life, was discovered just by the holy house. So for many Walsingham, where Mary is the focus of thought and prayer is a place where the veil seems thin.
Of course these ‘thin’ places are not limited to obviously holy sites, they can be anywhere, a favourite walk or view or a picture or a poem or piece of music. Some things do trigger in us awe and wonder and joy.
Yet today I am thinking about place and how this place, this church of St. Mary is important to each one of us. But what of Mary, our patron, were places important to her?
In one sense we have answered that already by thinking of the holy house, where the Angel Gabriel invited her to say yes to God. But where else might we think of?
The temple of course, a pub at Cana perhaps and what of Elizabeth’s home where she spent some weeks before Jesus was born and from where she spoke those wonderful words of the Magnificat heard in our Gospel, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord’, maybe even Golgotha where she witnessed her son’s death.
Were these places for her places where the veil was thin? Places of pilgrimage to which she returned again and again, when she needed to remember, to be consoled and encouraged to be reminded of who she was.
Walsingham is a place of pilgrimage and an integral part of going there is in fact the journey.
When I went it was part of a coach trip from Barrow in Furness, so from there to North Norfolk really did feel like a pilgrimage. On one of those journeys I remember how I was sat next to someone I’d not spent that much time with before they shared a great deal it was if you like part of their preparation.
And though maybe not so far geographically in life we make all sorts of little pilgrimages, to work, to the shops, to the bus, each one in some way represents a different strand in our life, and of course we make our pilgrimage here too.
Our walk or drive here and the moments of quiet before and during worship are part of our journey even if just for a few minutes, times to gather our thoughts and prepare to encounter the risen Christ.
For here the different threads of our life are pulled together and maybe like Mary returning to places that were important to her, or those going on pilgrimage to Walsingham, when we come here Sunday by Sunday we are reminded of who we are before each other and before God.
The God who loves us is made real to us in through our worship and communion as we are restored, refreshed and sent out to love and serve the Lord in all we say and do.
As the Holy House forms the centre of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, this place is the centre of our spiritual lives. Not because of the bricks and mortar, the fine vestments, the lovely music and beautiful windows, beautiful and important as they all are, but because of where, through this place our hearts and minds are directed, to the God of love, who is our eternal home.
This place where the veil is thin hints at our eternal home. So we should be thankful for the life of the church here at St. Mary’s, focused around this building and the worship we offer, we should cherish this place so central to our lives.
This sense of being thankful for this holy place forms part of the backdrop to a giving campaign to increase our income which begins in a couple of weeks. This campaign is vital to our future for it gives us a secure financial base from which to work. More of that in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime and hopefully you will have received a little bit of paper on your way in, I’d like you to take a couple of minutes now to write down single words or in simple phrases words that express why you are thankful for this place.
So for example you might write, prayer or friendship or worship or Meeting Christ or singing, jot down what seems most important to you and when the collection plate comes round during the offertory hymn please place them in their to be offered as part of our thanksgiving on this our Patronal Festival.
We have no Richeldis to provide a vision for a Holy House but that is what this place is to us, a holy house, a home, where the veil is thin where we find life in all its fullness.