Clothing for the soul divine, wrote William Blake, an English poet of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This seems to resonate with much of what is being celebrated and commemorated in Ripon Cathedral.
Last weekend saw the Sights, Sounds and Stories of Ripon event. People came along to venues all over the city that were sharing something of the good news and reality of this community and district.
It was a privilege to open the whole event at the Work House Museum. I suggested that we could have called the day, “Counting our Blessings.” It is so easy to miss the positive things of life – the joy – when the negative things can seem so dominant.
Part of the joy, though, is the evidence that people are not blind to the suffering of others; people do care and want to help.
I enjoyed chatting with representatives of the YMCA in the market place, and was impressed by those who were planning to sleep out that night to highlight the growing problem of homelessness and people sleeping rough.
In the cathedral, the City of Sanctuary supporters were describing the vision of the UK being a welcoming place of safety, proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.
The joy is that there are people who care, also great work has been done in local schools that have become affiliated to this movement, and refugees in this part of Yorkshire have received practical and emotional support. The woe, of course, is that such support is needed at all.
On Sunday morning, I was struck by the many positive comments we received following the Mothering Sunday service.
This day is always a joy for us, as for many churches, when large numbers of people want to thank God for the motherly love received from parents, carers and God himself. Canon Ailsa in her sermon managed to demonstrate, however, that family life and human relationships can be complicated, and that getting along with each other is challenging. Coming before God, we can be honest about these things. What was pure joy, though, was observing people of different ages attempting three-legged and five-legged walking up and down the cathedral’s central aisle.
Next Sunday, known as Passion (suffering) Sunday, we begin to focus more on the suffering that Jesus endured to show the love of God. God’s unfailing unconditional love for everyone is a life-transforming joy.
That Jesus had to die on the cross to show it is a woeful consequence of living in an imperfect world.
It is appropriate that Passion Sunday, (18 March), this year is the hundredth anniversary of the last birthday of Wilfred Owen, the famous First World War poet.
Owen spent the afternoon of that birthday in Ripon Cathedral – he was stationed at the camp here while recuperating from shell shock. He would return to France and be killed in the final few days of the war.
At 3.30pm on Sunday, we are holding a special service to which people from the whole region are warmly invited. The poems that Wilfred Owen wrote while in Ripon, along with some of his correspondence with his mother, will be interwoven with the hymns, Bible readings and choral pieces.
It is followed by afternoon tea for everyone and the launch of our newly-created pilgrimage, Pity of War.
This includes readings and reflections from Owen’s war poetry and the realistic comfort, hope and joy that the Christian faith has to share with an imperfect, yet amazingly wonderful world.