Reflection for St Swithun’s Day, 11 July 2021

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Matthew 5:43-end

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A patronal festival is a day to celebrate all who we are and all that we do as a worshipping community. As we mark St Swithun’s Day, once again this year our celebrations are muted due to coronavirus restrictions. Nevertheless, as we gather for worship in person in the church that bears Swithun’s name, if we worship on line or pray at home on our own, we give thanks to God for the 9th century bishop of Winchester, St Swithun. We celebrate his simplicity and holiness, his desire to build the church in unity and love. We commit ourselves afresh to be holy people, people who reach out in unity and love to our neighbours, family and friends.

The thing that popular culture remembers about Swithun is that if it rains on his feast day, the rain will continue for 40 days! We don’t know much about Swithun other than the fact that he was a Bishop of Winchester. We are told that he was a simple and holy man who wanted to be buried in a humble grave. His request was granted but when a new cathedral was built, Swithun’s bones were moved into a shrine within its walls. The Bishop was warned that moving the bones would bring about severe storms and this is exactly what happened: as the bones were moved, it began to rain and it continued to rain for forty days.

As we celebrate Swithun, we could do well to ask ourselves two questions: are we, like Swithun, trying to fashion a holy life? Do we, like Swithun, try to build up the church in unity and in love? These are important questions for us all, not only here in our parish but also in the wider deanery as we look to the shape of the future together.

It is perhaps hard to pinpoint what it is to be holy today. St Matthew gives us a few clues in our bible reading: we are to be merciful, pure in heart – that is to say truthful and single minded for God; we are to be peacemakers and people who work for justice and for peace. Our efforts may be small but God blesses what we do and who we are. God guides us and God promises that through our efforts, others shall be blessed.

As we remember St Swithun, let us commit ourselves afresh to witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ across our community.

Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector

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