A Sanctuary for Lent

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Beverley Minster is full of the most amazingly beautiful decoration and stunning art. At first glance this chair is neither beautiful nor stunning. But I sat in it last night as president at our Ash Wednesday Eucharist, hearing words of challenge and promise from Fiona my colleague. We may be flawed ‘dusty’ people, and the Ash Wednesday liturgy asks us to remember this. But in the beginning dust is taken and shaped into the image of God. Lent – forgiveness and healing – is about dusty people becoming the new creation.

This chair is the ‘Frid Stool’. It is saxon, and predates the norman and gothic Minsters here. It is a physical connection to John of Beverley, founder of the eighth century monastery which is the origin of everything in modern Beverley. It is highly polished where 1200 years of hands have rested on it, and I added my polish last night. It was in the building when Thomas Becket was Provost of Beverley, before he went on to other things.

Over its history the Frid Stool has become the symbol of sanctuary. Beverley was a sanctuary town, where, if you had committed a crime which demanded death, you could claim sanctuary and your sentence was commuted – often people were sent abroad. The whole town had this function, and there are crosses on our boundaries to define the geographical limits of this provision. But the Minster was the heart, and the stool has become the focus of this story. Sit here, it says, and you will be saved from death.

Lent asks us to assess our chances of salvation, openly and honestly. We have little chance by ourselves. The sentence is clear. We are dusty people. In the sanctuary offered to us in Christ we have hope. The sanctuary seeker knew they should die, but could be offered life. So with us. The Frid stool, semi-circular, wraps you up. The love of God enfolds us. From death comes life. From dust the divine spark. From darkness light.

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