Dydd Gwyl Dewi – The Feast of St David
Readings: Jeremiah 1. 4-10; Psalm 16. 3, 5-8; 1 Thessalonians 2. 2b-12; Matthew 16. 24-27 (view all)
Some years ago now, I had the joy of organising a weekend pilgrimage to St David’s for our community of young people in Newport.
On our first night together, we walked along the coastal path from our campsite up to the site of St David’s birth at St Non’s, somehow timing it perfectly so that we arrived exactly as the sun was setting.
Legend has it that St David was born during a horrendous thunderstorm, something we can perhaps relate to given the last few weeks of stormy weather, but that during the storm a single pillar of calm sunlight broke through to illuminate the young mother giving birth. Followed by a bolt of lightning, which split the stone on which Non had been rest her shoulders, creating a natural spring or well.
On our pilgrimage, our group saw this tale reflected in the clifftop landscape — the stone, the well, the ruins of the old church of St Non — all with the sun setting behind us. It certainly felt like a thin place, a spiritual place to us.
In David’s time, and the centuries following, it was through the lens of these mystical, often miraculous stories, and through the landscape itself, that people made sense of their spirituality.
In our time, though, things seem much more complicated. The boundaries of our rational worldview are much more tightly framed. Heaven can seem a very distant place, and any spiritual experiences are easy to doubt, explaining them away through psychological reasoning.
So what does the life of our patron, Dewi Sant, have to say to us today, living in a very different world?
What can we learn from another time when the world was a wilder place, when each day held the potential for the miraculous? Is there still space for the divine in our modern, secular age?
Perhaps our initial way in lies through the experience of David’s mother, Non, herself.
Mirroring the biblical narrative of Christ’s birth, Rhygyfarch’s Life of David tells us that David’s birth took place in the shadow of an evil ruler, in a time of political turmoil.
Perhaps because of this, perhaps because of other circumstances, Non finds herself giving birth alone. A young woman in labour, experiencing the pain and turmoil of labour with no one to support her.
Terrified, but devout, she turns to God for assistance, and in the midst of the thunderstorm, God arrives to bring comfort not just to her, but a promise for her child’s future.
The shape of this divine encounter, which is mirrored time and time again in scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, gives us a pattern for the way in which God ministers in the world. And a way to understand how God may be at work in our lives today.
God comes to us, ministering to us, when we are at the end of ourselves. Sometimes through God’s own direct presence, sometimes through the ministry of others.
This is reflected in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in today’s epistle. Paul describes to these early Christians the way in which he, himself, with his companions came to minister to them. He tells them that they did not come to coerce or manipulate, to use power to bend and persuade, but instead writes,
“…we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
I think this passage was chosen for the Feast of St David because it reflects something of what was David’s own philosophy of ministry. Paul, who is often considered a very direct, sometimes harsh, character, actually describes his ministry in a surprisingly tender way. The goal of his ministry among the Thessalonians was not just to proclaim the gospel, but also to embody Christ’s presence among them through gentleness and tenderness.
In today’s secular world we often struggle to understand could God might be present in the thunderstorms of life.
But when we are truly ministered to by another, something in our experience enables us to break free of our bounded, rational worldview. We are able experience God’s presence, through the love and care of another human being.
And that same meaning is reflected when we, too, are able to minister to others in their time of greatest need.
When we are able to put aside our own needs and wants. To ‘deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross’ in the words of our Gospel reading. Then God transforms us, in our weakness, to be able to be Christ to others, to sit alongside them so they, too, are not alone, but are drawn into God’s love through our presence with them.
So how can we, as the spiritual descendants of Non and David today, minister Christ to those around us?
Look around you this week, and ask: ‘Who might God be calling me to minister to?’ They may even be sat along from you in your pew this morning.
And what might we need to lay aside in order to truly minister to others, in gentleness and tenderness? Our scheduled plans and busy diaries? Our pride or pre-conceptions?
As a Church, will we allow God to minister to each other, and others in our community, through our lives?
The ultimate compliment I have ever been paid as a priest, was from a woman who had hit rock bottom a few week’s previously and broken down in a Sunday service.
I didn’t know her very well, and was newly ordained, but new I needed to do something. So I just knelt next to her and held her hand while she cried.
A couple of Sundays later, she spoke to me about it, and said something profound. She said, ‘In that moment, it was as if it wasn’t you, but Jesus himself who was holding my hand.’
That moment wasn’t about my ability as a minister, something wise or compassionate that I’d said or done. It wasn’t about me at all, because Jesus had used me to minister to her, in order to make his presence real to her in the moment she most needed him.
When we are truly there for others in their need, Christ, whose life is in each one of us, ministers to them through us.
So this morning, as we commemorate David and Non, may the presence of Christ become real to us, as he ministers to us through others, and through us to those around us. Amen.