URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 18th April 2023 St Cuthbert
Tuesday 18 April 2023 St Cuthbert (634-687)
photo credit British Museum, Creative Commons Licence
Cuthbert grew up in what is now North Northumberland/the Scottish Borders, entering the monastic life at Old Melrose under the tuition of St Boisil. Cuthbert moved on from Melrose to Lindisfarne upon the death of Aidan. Monk, a most reluctant bishop, and hermit, Cuthbert blazed a trail in many respects – for example setting up the world’s first recorded bird sanctuary on Inner Farne, just off the coast of Seahouses today. Cuthbert had, like Aidan, and many others in the Celtic church, a close affinity with God’s created world around him. Inner Farne was where Cuthbert eventually lived after a full ministry on the mainland, and where he lived as a hermit until his eventual death. As a hermit, he had wrestled with his own spiritual demons, and sought escape from the murmurings and politics of daily church life.
St Matthew 25: 31 – 40
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’
When I visited Penrhys in 1989 the Revd Dr John Morgans said to me, “If you want to get to the heart of the Gospel, go to the edges.”
Cuthbert was an edgy saint – who understood this too in his day – and gravitated toward the edges. He would often disappear on his own into the Cheviot hills which in his day were lawless, disease ridden, and full of crime. Most people from outside those communities would avoid going into the region for fear of their lives, health, and wealth. However, we read in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English people of how Cuthbert reached out to the small communities of the marginalised, stigmatised and feared hill people in God’s love: teaching, preaching, and healing; boldly going where no-one outside these closed communities would dare to venture.
If ever you walk St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, you will walk along a stretch which I always find profoundly moving: between Hethpool and Wooler you will walk through the archaeological remains of ancient structures mostly turfed over but still discernible, you will see the wild goats which still roam the hills as they did in Cuthbert’s day, and you will feel in that particularly striking landscape, peppered with hollows and hideaways, easily defended and from which the approaches are visible, you are truly walking in the steps of Cuthbert as he carried his portable altar and ministered to the hill folk, risking all in obedience to God’s call. 1400 years ago this was edgy terrain populated by communities which were a law to themselves – shunned by most on the softer coastal plains to the east and the gentle rolling landscape to the west. Out of his comfort zone, Cuthbert ministered by God’s grace as and when the Holy Spirit both inspired and equipped.
Gracious God, who reaches out to each of us through your love in Christ, Help us in our turn to reach out to others in Christ’s name, especially on the margins. Give us Cuthbert’s courage and faith, free us from the familiar to step into challenging new spaces and to be less risk averse. During our earthly pilgrimage may we consider the less trodden path at each junction and choice, and should that take us closer to the margins of the familiar reassure us you are already there before us. Amen.
The Rev’d Dave Herbert is Moderator of the Northern Synod