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Bishop Brian Noble Homily 2005

Bishop Brian Noble Homily 2005 It's with some hesitation that I speak to you today. The reason being that while it is cancer that brings us together this afternoon, there is, in a real sense, no such thing as cancer - there is only my cancer and her cancer, your cancer and his cancer. And so, given its very personal nature, it's with caution that one speaks about it. Too much easy generalisation could make difficult experiences even more difficult. All of us are different; no two situations the same. Hence my hesitation. That said, however, conversations do reveal similarities, and sometimes it can be helpful and supportive, reassuring or enlightening to hear another's story. My own began - as they often do - with a growing awareness of considerable fatigue. I'd been a bishop three- and- a- half years and remember wondering how I could possibly cope with the next twelve years or so. Before long, discomfort in swallowing eventually took me to my GP - resulting in X Rays and scans that revealed cancer of the oesophagus that had spread to the stomach. Then began the waiting, the uncertainty, the not knowing to what one would have to adjust. Initially it was unclear what treatment - if any - might be possible. Eventually chemotherapy was begun with a view to subsequent extensive surgery - though whether that would be worthwhile was not something that could be determined until I was on the operating table. Waking up in Intensive Care would mean that things had gone according to plan; being back on the Ward would mean that it was only a matter of time. I mention this to help you understand that even six years on, rarely does a day pass without my having a quite profound sense of gratitude for being alive. And for those of us fortunate enough to survive cancer, that seems to be a common experience. It's usual enough for all of us at times to be glad to be living. What is different here is the quality of the experience. And this, I think, brings us to a consequence of cancer - and perhaps of all serious illness - that many remark on - namely, what we might call an intensification of awareness. A new relishing of life is but one example. An acute awareness of death and of the shortness of life is another. So, too, a greater appreciation of the ordinary things of life - the down-side of which can be a deep sadness at the possibility of having to bid life farewell. Even in recovery that possibility is ever present, and yet - more positively - that same awareness can encourage a fuller living for each day as it comes. But more than anything else - and maybe not surprisingly - it's in our human relationships that awareness is often intensified. Not infrequently cancer brings with it a sense of isolation - of aloneness - of being in the world but somehow no longer part of it, and in that experience the need for companionship takes on a unique significance. Friendships and relationships assume a new importance, and, as with so much else, cease to be taken for granted. The experience about which we have just heard in the Gospel and the mime, of the two dejected Emmaus disciples, comes to mind. Their Companion on the road was there to listen but also to interpret and to help them make sense of their experience. In many different, and often quite simple ways, we do this for those with whom we walk in their illness. It's a service beyond compare. And what, you might reasonably ask of a bishop, did the Companion on the Road say to him at that deepest level of all - the level of Faith? Here, too, experiences differ and generalisations are dangerous. But for myself, I found immensely helpful Jesus' words in the Prayer He gave us: 'Thy Kingdom come'. Many years ago - long before becoming a bishop - I took those words as a sort of personal motto; and subsequently have always believed that our task in life is to contribute to the establishment of God's Reign, His purposes, His Kingdom. And what has always seemed clear to me is that what is significant here is not so much what we do as the spirit in which we do it. In the life of Jesus himself, what really mattered was his complete willingness to do the will of His Father, and it's no accident that in the Our Father, 'Thy Kingdom come' is immediately followed by 'Thy will be done'. All of this I found helpful as I struggled with only having been a bishop three years and having to come to terms with the distinct possibility that my contribution at the level of active ministry was about to cease. What could God possibly be up to! But from a Kingdom-building perspective, of course, it mattered little whether I lived or died. What did matter - and still matters - is the generosity with which either possibility is accepted. That is the raw material from which God's Kingdom is built. And it was in that frame of mind that I tried - not always successfully - to face whatever would be. But, let me repeat, every journey is different, and no two travellers the same. The purpose of our being here this afternoon is to break through the hopelessness of cancer and to recognise that even in its midst and at its most destructive, it has its limitations. In the words of the 'Pause for Hope Cancer Prayer' - and as we've been able to see - cancer cannot cripple love - it cannot shatter hope - it cannot kill friendship - it cannot shut out memories - it cannot reduce eternal life - it cannot quench the Spirit - it cannot lessen the power of the Resurrection. And so in faith, in hope and in love we pray for each other, for those we've lost, and for those about whom and for whom we care. Rt Rev Brian M Noble Bishop of Shrewsbury


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