A Sermon from Sherborne

Where is Jesus?:

A sermon for the Parish Eucharist, preached in Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 30th December 2018 by the Reverend Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar


I can only remember losing my daughter once. Do you remember when Tesco’s was where WILKOS is now in Yeovil? I was queuing at the deli counter and had met someone I knew and so we were talking as we queued. I had my son on the seat of the trolley and my daughter holding the trolley. Over the tannoy came the announcement “if anyone has lost a little girl with blonde hair and wearing a red coat; we have her at the customer services desk’. I looked down and oh no, she had gone! It was my child in the announcement. Full of remorse I rushed to collect her. Anna was quite happily sitting with the assistant who reassured me that it happened every day – but not to me, I said! Of course later that evening when Stuart came home it was the first thing she told him with much drama and so once again I felt like a terrible mother.

And so I have great sympathy with Mary and Joseph when they discover that Jesus is no longer with their travelling party. I have always had it in my mind that this was a Nazareth village group which had made the journey together down to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover, so Jesus would have been with friends and family. When once they knew he was nowhere to be found a mad scramble back to Jerusalem ensued with the sounds in their ears like – don’t worry he can’t have gone far I’m sure you will find him, we’ll walk on slowly so you can catch us up; we’ll wait at the next village for you.  All very reassuring.

Is it a surprise that it took so long for Mary and Joseph to find him to find him; three days is a long time for Mary and Joseph to be in a panic. Where could he be? Not where they had been staying obviously, not in any of the other places they had been to, I wonder why it was three days before they thought of looking in The Temple. That was of course where they had visited most during the festival. Is there a link here to one of the last stories in Luke’s gospel when two disciples three days after the death of Jesus are on the road to Emmaus and come face to face with their risen Lord and they too rush back to Jerusalem, but with joy not in anguish?

When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus they must have stopped in their tracks – here was their son not only listening to the great teachers but teaching them himself and they were listening intently. Much as I had been when I found my daughter, Mary’s immediate reaction was one of anger – how could you do this to me didn’t you realise I would be worried to death; don’t you care that your father and I have been searching everywhere for you; that we have had to leave the rest of the family and come back to search for you: words of anger which arose out of love and fear.

Three ideas came to my mind as I thought about this reading today. The first was just how faithful Mary and Joseph had been at passing on the faith of their ancestors to their children. It was certainly traditional for men to go to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals, but that Mary went as well demonstrated her devotion and not just on this occasion but because it was their custom. Today we often hear parents saying that they will allow their children to choose when they are old enough if they follow a faith, sadly many never do because they have nothing to base their choice on. They have nothing to either accept or reject. But for Jesus the example of his parents gave him a solid grounding in the faith of his forefathers. Was this why God chose them to be the parents of his Son because he knew he could trust them with the faith of Israel?

The second thought that came to my mind is linked to the idea that this may have been for Jesus his Bar Mitzvah; the coming of age ceremony for Jewish boys around the age of twelve or thirteen. This is when a boy takes his place with the men and leaves the gathering space of the women and children. Bar Mitzvah means son of the commandment or son of the law and this means a boy takes responsibility himself for all the obligations of the law. Perhaps this was the first time Jesus had attended all the rituals associated with the festival and perhaps they had intrigued and fascinated him so that when it came the time to leave he just couldn’t help but linger a while longer. Jesus came of age in another way too. He cannot have known as a baby that he had a unique relationship with God, but on this day he demonstrates that he does now understand. When Mary suggests that both his father and she have been searching day and night, Jesus, with all the confidence of an adolescent says, ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ This was the day that Luke announces that Jesus has discovered who he is; he is not like other men but that in a unique and special way He is the Son of God.

Mary we are told treasured these things; she added them to the other treasured memories of shepherds and wise men, of Simeon and Anna, of visits by angels and then Jesus acknowledging the authority of his earthly parents, obediently followed then back to Nazareth where Luke tells us, he grew in wisdom and where he found favour with people and with God.

And my final thought today is this: where is Jesus in your life today? There are days if I am honest when I lose Him. Life becomes busy and hectic and it is hard to remember his presence and like Mary and Joseph I need to go in search of Him again. Through prayer and reading and by being with his people I can find Him again. Sometimes perhaps we take our faith for granted, so perhaps as we look ahead to the New Year and all those resolutions we make, one of them might be:

to see you more clearly,
to love you more dearly
and follow you more nearly,
day by day. Amen

The Reverend Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar 30/12/2018
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sherborne