All shall be well. “I make that claim today. It is going to be alright. Do you believe it?” asked the Rev. Robert Baggott. “Julian of Norwich believed. She said, ‘All shall be well. All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.’”
Baggott gave the homily for the 9:15 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 14, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The title of his homily was “Julian: A Story of Unshakeable Trust.” The scripture text was Matthew 10: 26-31 (NRSV) —
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Julian was not Pollyanna or Little Orphan Annie, who believed that the sun would come out tomorrow, Baggott said.
Life was not predictable in 14th-century England. France and England were involved in the Hundred Years’ War. Peasants were slaughtered and kings were deposed. All this happened in the midst of the Black Death, the bubonic plague.
At least half the population of England died of the plague and the social structure was crumbling. The church was overwhelmed by the numbers of bodies that needed to be buried. The people wanted a spiritual answer for what was happening.
“The people asked, ‘Where is God?’ and the church answered, ‘The plague is the result of the people’s sinfulness. It is the people’s fault and God is seeking revenge,’” Baggott said.
Julian of Norwich had a different message. She was an anchoress, living in a small enclosure built into the side of a church. She had visions on her sick bed and Jesus came to her with a different message.
“God didn’t blame the people. Jesus said to Julian in a vision, ‘God may make all things well, God can make all things well, God shall make all things well, God will make all things well,’” Baggott said.
He continued, “In all the confusion, despair and anxiety, Jesus Christ was telling Julian that all would be OK. Now there’s an alternative view of reality.”
Jesus provided the disciples an alternate view of the future. Their lives were oppressed by the Romans and other officials. Jesus told them to hold their heads high, to speak clearly and calmly, to speak without fear.
Baggott said, “Jesus was saying, ‘Get some perspective.’ Don’t fear those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul. God is in charge of the soul, why be afraid?”
He quoted the poem, “Autumn,” by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “We are all falling. / This hand falls. / And look at others; it is in them all. / And yet there is One who holds this falling / endlessly gently in his hands.”
Rilke used the image of falling leaves to symbolize mortality. “The poem captures the bedrock confidence of Jesus. Why lose perspective on reality? Sometimes we think that God is so big that we lose God’s single, tender care of the world.”
Baggott told a story of a strict Calvinist minister who believed that God was almighty, so in control of every aspect of life, that nothing happened unless God caused it. The minister developed cancer. He assumed that this was what God wanted.
The minister’s son came to him and said, “You have worked all your life to make the world a better place for all people. Isn’t it strange that God would pay you back by giving you cancer?”
The minister was struck by his son’s words and responded, “I don’t believe God wanted me to have cancer. I will have to work on that.”
The minister turned to the Bible and counted how many times the word “almighty” was used. It was only a few times, most notably in Revelation. The minister realized that “almighty” meant that God would ultimately triumph.
Baggott said, “God’s love, justice and peace will prevail at the end, but now God is in the struggle with us. That minister wondered, ‘Why didn’t I understand that before?’”
When confronted with a new reality, we are often forced to rethink our theological positions, Baggott told the virtual congregation. “God challenges any rigid thinking; God would not let us fall.”
Julian of Norwich found the God of love and knew all would be well. She did not live an untroubled life, but she trusted Jesus when he said that God ultimately wins; we rest safely in God’s hands.
She had another vision where a hazelnut appeared in her hand. In the hazelnut, Julian saw three priorities of God: God made it, God loves it, God preserves it.
“When we feel embattled, we can make that small claim as Julian did — God made us, God loves us, God preserves us,” Baggott said. “I can’t see the details and I can’t promise you rainbows and starry nights. We are God’s people, Christ’s disciples, and we know how it will turn out.”
Baggott closed with some words from the Rev. Maurice Boyd, formerly of The Church of the City in New York City. Boyd said that as people go out into the world, they go as God’s children, so that when the day is done, God will lead them by the hand into the land of promise where all shall be well.
“All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well,” Baggott said.
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, a United Methodist minister and co-host of the United Methodist House, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, a student in the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was an improvisation. Smietana sang the hymn, “Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth,” words by Julian of Norwich. The anthem was “Variations on ‘O Filii et Filiae,’” by Jeanne Demessieux. Stafford played “Toccata on ‘O Filii et Filiae,’” by Lynwood Farnam, for the postlude. This program was made possible by Willow and Gary Brost and the Susan and John Turben Foundation.