Jesus prayed: ‘Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them…’
(From the Gospel of St. John chapter 17:1-11)
Last Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension; the end of the 40-day period after Jesus’ resurrection, the time when he walked the earth in his risen form, and met with the disciples, teaching and encouraging them with his words of faith, hope and love. Then at the Ascension, he rose through the heavens to return to the right hand of God. It’s an extraordinary, almost surreal, moment. And the disciples struggle to comprehend it, as do we.
But they are left with words of encouragement, first by Jesus, with the promise that he will empower them to be his witnesses; his word in action. Then they are further encouraged by the words of the angels, who assure them that, ‘This Jesus will return’. It was enough to spur them on; to stand in solidarity with one another, to wait and to pray. As many of you are aware, pebbles have been placed on the doorstep of Whitsbury Church in recent weeks, each with a word of encouragement: words like ‘pray’, ‘calm’ and ‘courageous’. I had proposed to distribute these pebbles throughout the village of Whitsbury for Pentecost, but those plans have changed.
It seems that some, perhaps many of those who are passing the Church at Whitsbury on a walk, or who have visited the churchyard in recent weeks as a place for quiet reflection, shelter and prayer, have been encouraged by seeing the pebbles and stones there, with their bright colours and words of encouragement.
Not only this, but little by little the pebbles are being taken away. Those that have gone include ones painted with the words ‘love’ and ‘hope’. It might be reasonable to imagine someone would pick up a pebble with the word ‘love’ painted on it for a whole variety of reasons, but it’s difficult to imagine someone would take a stone with the word ‘hope’ for any reason other than as a message of reassurance or encouragement to themselves, or for someone else.
And so kind souls in Whitsbury are little by little replacing the pebbles on the doorstep of the Church with newly painted words of hope and love, even as other pebbles move on to unknown homes, with their messages of courage, peace and hope, and with the word of God’s people that God has not forgotten his world, nor ever shall.