Life always involves transitions; some feel bigger than others.

Nineteen years ago, the church where I work hired a full-time parish worker to look after office details and a million other things essential to the life of a community of faith. Today Gillian enters retirement.

We are a small operation. For most of the past nineteen years Gillian and I have been the only two full-time employees in this church. So our working relationship has been necessarily close.

In the past nearly two decades we have seen a lot of life pass by. We have walked with our community through heartbreaking tragedies. We have celebrated times of deep joy. We have supported people as they have launched out in bold gestures of love and compassion. We have struggled together to find our way through acres of confusion and uncertainty.

Gillian and I have not always agreed. There have been times when our views have diverged. We have had different understandings of church and people.

But all along the way we have shared a deep commitment.

We have always believed that the purpose of church is utterly unique. We have understood that church is the only institution that exists to encourage people to look beyond this physical material realm that so preoccupies our lives. Church exists to support people in the great discovery that there is a vast mystery and beauty that permeates all of life. Gillian and I have shared a commitment to the truth that there is nothing in this physical tangible material realm that can ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is shown with his disciples leaving the temple in Jerusalem. As they walk away from the magnificent structure that was the centre of devotion and reference for the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, one of his disciples commented,

“Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (Mark 13:1)

This disciple was impressed by the solidity and strength of the temple structure. Here was something upon which to rely. Here was an abiding testimony to the presence and power of God. Although everything else in the external world might be uncertain, this great edifice would survive.

But Jesus was not impressed. He pointed to the “great buildings,” and asked,

“Do you see these great buildings?”

Then he uttered the shocking words,

“Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)

Nothing in the external world is permanent. Everything is changing and passing away. All those structures, forms, and ways of being that we have come to trust and rely upon are built on shifting sand. Those external patterns, relationships and customs in which we have found comfort and in which we have sought safety, will all ultimately crumble.

After Jesus spoke his troubling words about the temple and the turmoil that was about to come upon the world, he was approached by “a woman with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard” which she broke open and poured on his head. This woman had understood that in Jesus there was something greater than the temple, something more valuable than all the costly ointment in the world. Her act was a gesture of dedication to that wisdom, beauty and truth that transcends any particular manifestation.

As one of the particular forms in my life in which the beauty of Jesus has been consistently manifest comes to an end, I know that the content to which this form has pointed does not change. The power and beauty of life that has guided the past nineteen years of this rich ministry relationship carries on and will manifest in new and powerful ways.

Thank you Gillian for these past nineteen years of pouring out the pure nard and pointing beyond this tangible material realm to support our community of faith and love.