Leavers' Sermon – The Chaplain

We have had some challenging readings this term for the preachers but, given the context of this service, I find myself unwilling to delve the Pauline mysteries of predestination tonight, so here’s another reading:‘Gandalf said, “Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth … and the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West.’I’m sure some of you will know that passage from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings or perhaps have seen the film. Perhaps fewer of you will remember a BBC radio adaptation of the trilogy made over twenty years ago. This thirteen hour marathon is now available on CD and my wife Emma and I sometimes listen to it. But whenever we get to the thirteenth episode, where Frodo departs and says farewell to his friends, Emma will refuse to play the CD, preferring to listen to episode one again rather than hear the end and weep. Endings can indeed be very sad, containing as they must, a sadness of loss, of letting go and of leaving something precious. However, without endings you cannot have beginnings. Along with sadness, there is the excitement and anticipation of a new beginning, a new start. For some here that might mean a new school, with new friends to make, new challenges and changes and growing to maturity and wisdom. For older leavers there is the prospect of further study in a favourite and specialised area, or the tantalising possibility of a new job and earning money. For others till, there is that most wonderful of changes, of starting a new family.But I am not underestimating the challenge and anxiety of change. In Garsington one member of our congregation is an eminent psychologist and, as he was asking us about how we were settling into our new home this year, we were chatting about the psychological stress of the big changes of life: marriage, divorce, bereavement and so on. Two of those big changes were moving house and changing jobs. I asked: ‘So really you would recommend not doing too many of these events too close together then.’ ‘Well yes, he said, for good mental health I would recommend trying to space out big changes in life.’ I wondered if he would like to recommend this as a policy to the Church of England or an Oxford College.It is only to be expected therefore, that the prospect of change for anybody here provokes a mixture of emotions, some of which are comfortable and some of which are not. Therefore, I’d like to offer two thoughts, which I hope will be of reassurance. Firstly, that certainly in the short time that I have known many of you here, not only through this year but also from the summer of 2006 when I was acting chaplain, that you are very precious people, who do good work and sacrifice much for the good of others, often under difficult circumstances, and not least for this college and chapel. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to know you. And, for once, the words of St. Paul come to mind from 1 Philippians:‘I thank my God, every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy for all of you. And this is my prayer, that love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help determine what is best.’Secondly, we have the reassurance that, whatever the changes ahead, you do not go alone for Christ goes with you. I am sure many of you know Mary Stevenson’s poem, footprints in the sand, but it is worth repeating:One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,“You promised me Lord,that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”And so, as you journey onward, we ask forgiveness where we have failed you; we give thanks for all you have given us; we assure you of our love and prayers. As you experience the pain of change, and the insecurity of moving on, we pray that you may also experience the blessing of inner growth. And, as you meet the poor, the pained, and the stranger on the way, we pray that you may see in each one the face of Christ. As you walk through the good times and the bad, we pray that you may never lose sight of the shelter of God’s loving arms and that the peace of Christ may reign in your heart.Amen.

Rev’d Dr. Jonathan Arnold, Chaplain
14th June 2009

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