(Norma Jones died on 6th May 2014 Aged 79)
The first person I met when I came to St. Mary`s was Norma. I`d been invited by the Archdeacon to consider being Vicar here and I came on an incognito visit to have a look around. Fortunately for me Church just happened to be open and I crept in at the end of a Funeral.
Norma was Verging that day and she was tidying up. Of course she didn`t know what I was about but she kindly let me sit for a few minutes and it`s in this context that so many of us will want to remember her. Norma made such a generous and kind contribution to our common life. It got tiring for her sometimes but she really enjoyed being called the `Church Mouse`. For Norma there was something here about belonging. Being part of the family at St. Mary`s mattered very deeply to her.
Although she had a stubborn streak and sometimes a sharp tongue Norma had a fragility to her which was often all too evident. For example, she was very unsure of me to begin with so we had an agreement that `perhaps in time we might become friends`.
Indeed, Norma was so consistent and dedicated to her life with us that if she wasn`t present for a day or two- we knew something wasn`t right. Invariably she`d got the wrong end of the stick; she`d taken someone`s comment the wrong way or misunderstood something and had gone home to, as she put it `climb the walls` of her flat.
But all of this was understandable because for much of the time Norma had lived in what she felt was a very unkind world. She hadn`t had the best education and in various contexts people had abused her trust and taken advantage of her.
She was actually a very capable person. There was a very nice picture in her flat that was taken when she was a nurse. I remember talking with her about this when she was in hospital earlier this year and her experience as a patient and her observations about twenty-first century nursing- although somewhat abrupt- showed not only a sound professional understanding of what`s needed but also considerable care and compassion.
Norma remembered birthdays and gave gifts and brought biscuits to share. Norma was really good at those little kindnesses which create warmth and it was easy to take them for granted because as the `Church Mouse` she was always there.
I used to joke with her that she clearly had a very `kind` face because every so often I had the sense that –around the village- she was becoming a one-woman Social Service. Although she perhaps took on the burdens of others more than she should; she really did try her best for those around her.
And of course she tried her best to grow in faith. She could never quite get over the thought that this meant she had to be `clever` in some way; and she often said that God felt very distant from her.
But when I sat with her in hospital on Easter Day she told me of how many visitors she`d been having and how much support and kindness she had been given and she kept on saying how she couldn`t understand how people could be so kind to her. It was difficult for her to see that these kindnesses were God`s way of showing her his love. But I`d like to think that a penny was beginning to drop and that she was getting a glimpse of her own value as a child of God; that again, the God she felt to be distant was there in the kindness of others.
Norma sometimes had that childlike quality of wanting to please. Like all of us; harshness could crush her but kindness would bring her out like a flower. Which is why I`ve asked us to ponder on that passage from the Book of Isaiah today. Christians have long memories and we looked back into the Old Testament Scriptures and saw some words which describe the life and ministry of Christ; but more especially his character:
The Prophet says:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; (Isaiah 42.1-3)
Notice again those words, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench”. We`re given a picture of vulnerability. But notice it`s a vulnerability that is met with gentleness.
How does Norma stand before God today? How did she always stand before Him? Although she often struggled to see or perceive it; it`s to the gentleness of Christ that we commend her today. It`s the gentleness of Christ that I would ask us all to reflect on and experience in this worship today; particularly if you feel bruised or that your faith feels but a `dimly burning wick`.
Both of our Scriptures today remind us that our Lord is not in the business of driving away but welcoming. He is not in the business of crushing or controlling but embracing in gentleness.
May Norma rest in peace and rise in glory.