My dear friends,
No one ever told me that the hardest bit would be leaving.
With this in mind, my Bible reading of late has dwelt on The Acts of the Apostles. Its later chapters record some of the comings and goings of St Paul during his final missionary journey. In Acts chapter 20, when bidding farewell to his Ephesian friends, St Paul admits to a sense of foreboding at an uncertain future, ‘Behold, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what shall befall me there.’1 Well, Paul, you have my sympathy, for behold, I am going to Derby, not knowing what shall befall me there either!
But, ultimately, it was not any uncertainty that lay ahead, it was sadness at leaving friends behind that brought the greatest emotion to Paul and his companions as ‘they all wept and embraced . . . . sorrowing.’2
Lest we become overly morose from our reading of this solemn farewell, the same chapter does provide a moment of light relief. St Paul’s departure from another city, Troas, surely contains a salutary lesson for all who preach:
‘Intending to depart on the morrow [ Paul ] prolonged his speech until midnight . . . . And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third storey and was taken up dead.’3
Thankfully, Eutychus was raised to life by prayer, whilst St Paul, undaunted by the event, returned to his preaching and continued on until daybreak!
Perhaps my own departure will have a similar composition: some sadness at our parting, some concern over an uncertain future, and a sermon that goes on far too long!
I will be honest with you: I did consider declining the invitation to become Dean of Derby. But a decisive moment came as, back here in Astbury, we sand the Nunc Dimittis at Evensong. This familiar passage of scripture records how Simeon faithfully served in the temple for year upon year, until the day when a child placed in his arms is suddenly revealed to be the long-promised Messiah. Had it been me I would have been tempted to say ‘Fantastic, this is just the beginning!’ Simeon, however, with superior wisdom, recognises that his own responsibilities are now fulfilled. With sublime contentment he prays ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace . . . . for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’
So, my dear, dear friends, I trust that we leave you just at the right time, God’s time, both for you and for us. Our years amongst you are complete. The future may be unknown, but it is not to be feared. We may be tempted to part with tears, but we would do better to rejoice for what God has done.
And, best of all, perhaps we should count ourselves fortunate that, when it comes to my sermons, I may occasionally have droned on a little bit but, to date at least, my preaching has never proved fatal!
With much love to you all,
1 Acts 20.22
2 Acts 20.37
3 Acts 20.7 & 9
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