Thursday, January 25, 2018

Little Liftings up of the Heart

A lovely evening tonight at the Pattenmakers' Feast at the Mansion House.

This was my sermon at S Margaret Pattens last year for Asension Day at which the Company celebrated the 300th anniversary of the granting of Livery.

Ascenciones in Corde ‘Liftings up of the Heart.’

Shoes are a sign of the fall. As indeed are all clothes, but perhaps most clearly, shoes. Our shoes are the point at which we are connected to the ground, reminded that we are creatures of the Earth, unable to rise up above the dirt of the earth. Pattenswere an attempt to lift us up over the grime of the streets; they tried to protect our fine shoes, and to keep our feet from becoming smelly – or too smelly. They are quite literally ‘little ascensions,’ raising us up, even if only a little way, above the sorrowful dirt. 

The Ascension might at first seem to be an overly literal fable. A rounding off of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus with him disappearing into the sky. If you go to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham you will find in the Chapel of the Ascension a plaster cloud on the ceiling and sticking out of it a pair of plaster feet. All rather silly perhaps and undevotional. No wonder that when Uri Gagarin went into space he came back to declare that having been to heaven he had found God was not there. But to understand the Ascension like that is profoundly to misunderstand.

CS Lewis noted that a novelist writes with imagination and words in order to convey truth through his fiction. God on the other hand writes with history and the material world in order to reveal truth through His creation. The message of the Ascension was apprehended as the sensation of Christ rising up into the sky. But its meaning was not that the Lord was going up or even out, but that because of Christ’s incarnation our human nature is at last redeemed, the fall is undone, and we may thither ascend where He has gone before, to use the powerful words of the prayer book collect.

On the Ascension Day the Christian is taught to remember that we are being raised up by Christ, and, like the apostles who lifted their hearts in worship constantly to be raising our hearts in little ascensions, ascenciones in corde, to use a rather wonderful phrase of Fr George Congreve’s, little ascensions of the heart, allowing them surely there to be fixed were true joys are to be found.

Lift up your hearts

Today is a day for Liverymen of the Pattenemakers to lift up your hearts, celebrating you anniversary. But even as Livery was granted to this Company the clock was ticking on the Pattenmakers trade. Already the Paviours were providing firmer surfaces to streets and roads, and the fashion for raised footwear, high-heeled shoes, with patens fitted upon them, was changing as the Enlightenment quite literally brought everybody back down to earth with the simplicity of flat heels. And as the century progressed the process was only continued and exacerbated by the French revolution. While Patens continued into the mid nineteenth century they went and have not come back. High heels for women began to be fashionable again in the 20th century, even on the dirtiest streets women now receive support from heels rather than patens.
A patten
Little liftings up of the heart
But you have kept your Ascension Days and taught the ascensions in corde, the little liftings up of the heart over these three centuries. The undoing of the Fall is not simply a matter of having platforms for our shoes to that we may stand a little above the troubles of the world. As those who have been committed to follow Christ, and Liverymen of other faiths and none will know, true ascension is received as a gift of grace in a context of charity and love and care of others. Livery is not merely a dress for a trading activity but for a charitable one, and Pattenmakers in particular, like liveries in general have shared the proceeds of success with those in need. For this we are most grateful; not so much for the money, though it is crucial, but for the commitment to showing how the selfishness of the Fall is undone in the lifting up of hearts in charity and love, and that at the heart of true wealth creation lies not avarice and greed, but charity and generosity.  

This is expressed for Christians in the example Jesus gave when He washed His disciples’ feet. I suppose we could stretch the point and suggest that patterns were an attempt to prevent the necessity of the washing in the first place, or at least to mitigate the amounts of dirt, but that would maybe to try to take the analogy slightly too far.

Nevertheless for Christians, and I would hazard for all people of good will, the habit of little liftings up of the heart beyond ourselves in service of God and neighbour bears fruit in love and joy and peace. In these actions of love the fallen are raised up, and we are lifted a little more towards heaven. The joy which flows from these ascenciones in corde has been a blessing on the Company and its charitable activity through the generations of Masters and Livery, known and unknown, who are recorded in the lists now to be dedicated in this church.
Pattenmakers Ascension Day Service 2017
Love and Care of Neighbour
Today the Company expresses love and care of neighbour in the interest that you maintain in education; in young managers within the shoemaking industry, and in the support of provision of orthopaedic shoes for those who need them. Of course in time this also will change, for our needs and our responses to them change and develop with each successive phase of our societies. What does not change is the eternal fact that through Christ’s once for all death and resurrection, salvation has been brought to us and the fall undone, and in his glorious Ascension the gate of heaven has been opened to our human nature so that through His grace lifting up our hearts we may come to share his eternal life. There will doubtless in the future be new ways in which this Company will serve the community, and new Liverymen and Masters will be added to our lists who serve in these new ways. But in what they do, they will simply do what our predecessors have done and we are called to do: Lift up our hearts daily to God and to seek His guidance in how we are to live in love and service of all.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Freedom Through Hope

A sermon for the week of prayer for Christian Unity preached at the Tyburn Convent

Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope 1 Peter 1:3

There is a fashion to say that the church was always divided. After all, we are told that there was from the beginning the argument between the Greek speaking and the Hebrew Christians. We are told the ecumenical project is therefore doomed, and we should be content with the divisions we know in the church – or at least leave their solution to the Parousia. But the Scripture itself will not let us do this. With the prayer of the Lord that we should all be one ringing in our ears we read the various descriptions of the unity of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles; and then there is the evidence of the First Letter of St Peter from which the short lesson at Vespers tonight comes.

An Epistle of Unity
The letter called 1 Peter seems to have been a collaboration between Peter and Sylvanus, leaders of the Hellenists and the Hebrews in the apostolic church. It is a fascinating text. It would appear from the end of the letter that Sylvanus, or Silas, the associate of St Paul, was the secretary who took down the letter, and from its Pauline theology and language he seems also to have had a considerable influence on its composition. And yet the letter’s opening declares it is from S Peter. Beyond simply the opening greeting ‘From Peter,’ and despite those who would claim it is a pseudonymous text, the indications are strong that the Prince of the Apostles was directly involved in the writing, not least because, if Silas was simply looking for an apostolic name to append to his own text it wold have been more natural and more in tune with the theology to choose that of St Paul.

Baptism the Principle of Unity
The first letter of St Peter has unity at its heart, for it is a text about baptism. It has so many references to the fundamental sacrament of Christian Unity that it has been described as a baptismal sermon and even as a baptismal liturgy. It draws heavily on the typology of the exodus. The letter opens by addressing the Christians of Asia Minor as exiles, and makes reference to that moment in the narrative of the flight to freedom of the chosen people when the people of Egypt give the Israelites jewels and silver, contrasting their redemption by  perishable gifts of precious metal with the redemption offered to the Christian in the new exodus through the blood of Jesus Christ.
By Baptism, By God’s great mercy in calling us to the healing waters we have been born anew to a living hope. This living hope into which the baptised are born is a hope for freedom and new life following a new exodus out of slavery, and rebirth into the promised land of the liberty of the children of God. It is a living hope, that is, a hope, by which one may live; a hope around which to configure one’s life.

All this springs from the fundamental unity of the Church in Baptism. Thanks be to God for that great fruit of the ecumenical movement by which we recognise one another’s baptism despite all the other things which may yet divide us. When all else is said and done there is a simple clarity that we accept that all those baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receive the gifts of grace in baptism, know the remaking of the marred image of Christ, and are incorporated as a Member of His Body. This is an astounding and precious gain from the seemingly endless and fruitless conversations of the last years. Blessed indeed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born again into a living hope. Because we have been born again with others into this hope we may share with them and travel together on the way.

In the context of this fundamental unity we should consider more deeply what this Living Hope might mean. So much of what brings division among churches may be traced to questions of authority. What was the authority – or not – of the Old Law over those who have the new and living hope? What is the authority of the Son of Man – is the authority of a creature or the authority of God incarnate? Where is the authority to add or subtract from the Creeds, the nub which continues to divide East and West? In the West we have debated to the point of martyrdom the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and in my own church we with much pain debate the authority or otherwise of Synods over the nature of Holy Order and now of Marriage.
We have debated to the point of martyrdom

When authority is at issue the question becomes acute as to whether baptism is in fact not the exchange of one form of slavery for another. There is inevitably an implied loss of freedom when one enters any community. Whether members of the sports team committing to train together, colleagues in the workplace doing what is needed in the shared endeavour, members of a family who have to share one television and take turns in the bathroom, or Religious living under a Rule, to be yoked to others implies a loss of freedom and an inhibition of our own free will as the individual becomes a member of a group, as the Member joins the Body.

A modern world which exalts the individual and which has atomised each person into a lone “economic unit” rebels against everything that is implied by the commonality of Baptism. And so one of the great deceits of the devil for the modern world is the illusion that freedom – individual limitless free choice – is the main and best object of hope. The devil’s lie for modern man is that in heaven you will get just what you want at last. 

"The devil’s lie for modern man is that in heaven you will get just what you want at last. "

I expect you know the story of the golf course. There was once a man who enjoyed golf. There was never any time to go to church because of the time that was spent on the golf course. The man died, and was met by an angel at the Pearly Gates.  He got in first with his request: “I want golf.” The angel asked, “are you sure?” And the response was “of course, I want golf.” So the man was taken to the most wonderful golf course imaginable, with just the right level of difficulty to make it challenging, just easy enough to be satisfying, with his angel as his caddy. At the end of the round the angel set off again, and thinking that he had had the most wonderful round and that he would really quite like some more golf he set off on a second game. At the end of that he was tired. But the Caddy angel again gave him the clubs. “I do not want to play golf any longer” he said, “I want to go and have a drink in the clubhouse and then a nice dinner.” But the Caddy angel said, “You asked for golf, and golf is what he shall have. The man said, “I do not want to play golf, I want my dinner, and here I can have what I want, after all this is heaven.” To which the Caddy angel replied, “Who said this was heaven?”

Obedience, Idenitiy and the Living Hope

The reality is that in our lives we are all imprisoned in different ways. We cannot just have what we want even though we might pretend that what we get is indeed what we want. Circumstances and abilities or disabilities, financial resources or all sorts of things prevent anyone from having just what they want. To those of us who live in the world, enclosed Religious are a powerful reminder that true freedom is found not in a the mirage of choice, but in the loving service of God, and in his choice of us. In this chapel and in this context I do not need to unpack that point, but we can profitably consider the paradox that we form our characters and gain our individuality only when we are in thorough engagement with others. It’s why parents take their children to nursery to be “socialised” and learn to develop their own personality in play with other children. I become more me because I have met you and given myself a little to you.

 In this we reveal that we are made in the image of God for in the interaction of the Persons of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, each is perfectly united with the others, such that each Person is infinitely immersed in his fellows and we may speak only of One, but at the same time that infinite participation perfectly forms the individual characters such that we must speak of Three. The Living hope into which we are born is therefore one which points not simply to simple union, but to a perfect union which implies, requires, community. If this is true of individuals in their growth as Persons, and of the very Godhead, surely it is true in our institutions, and in the supernatural institution which is the Body of the Baptised?

The Living Hope is a pattern both for our individual engagement with societies and for the ecumenical endeavour of the whole Body of Christ.

I don’t have a programme to offer as to how this approach, the approach of Baptism, might work out in practical ecumenism. At least not in the broad sense of how institutions and churches might respond. To offer such a programme now would not be helpful since those among us who are policy makers or canonists must work in those structures not out of the community we are forming here and now. But how might this apply personally to each of us, to policy makers and canonists, and also to Religious and to all the baptised that we might make some contribution from the Living Hope which is ours?

"Obedience calls the Community into Being"

A hero of mine is Fr George Congreve, an Anglican religious who helped many late 19th and early 20th century communities to flourish. He offers some thoughts on obedience, as the basis by which a Community must live, whether it be a Convent or a Family. Obedience for him is the foundation by which community is lived, enacted by each individual.

Congreve wrote that obedience “calls the community into being” and went on, “Obedience does not give the external act of obedience merely, but it gives our heart along with the act. And the Christian, the Religious, cannot say, I will keep the rule and I will obey the authority of the community life, but my heart, my inmost heart, my mind, my sorrows, my joys, what are they to the community?… Oh no, obedience keeps nothing to itself, no sphere of nature in which self is to remain.… Obedience to our Religious Rule in spirit and in heart develops great simplicity and sincerity and openness of character. I wish to have no thought, no delight, no sorrow, no hope which I cannot share with all my brothers in Christ Jesus … And so by choosing His will all day long we are taken up into His self, and we go forward with him in the glorious progress of the life of God. His wisdom, his power, His love acting us as we live in loving obedience. It is this perfect union with God which obedience means. ‘I live, yet not I, Christ lives in me.’” The purpose of obedience is to live as “Loving others, whom God loves with God’s love.”

An Ecumenical Manifesto

This might be the manifesto for our life together, a union which is founded in Baptism and leads us by the path of obedience to a commitment to others which by a seeming paradox that derives ultimately from our creation in the image of God, enables our own individual expression to be set free. The more we all live like this the more our institutions might come to reflect the union to which we aspire, which is in the end, union with God, that we might be one with those others whom He has united to Himself. We may not see it now, but we can hope and: Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Living History

The City New Year service at S Michael Cornhill is attened by the Lord Mayor in full regalia. It is one of only a few times in the year that the Lord Mayor wears the 'Collar of Esses', a livery collar which, though repaired and remade, goes back at least to the reign of Henry VIII. It is extrarodinary to contemplate the nearness of the past when such an item is in use. It gives connexion with out predecessors and is a tangible link with those who have gone before.

Of course the thing is that human history is not that long. near the entrance to the British Museum is the 'Battlefield Palette' about a century older than the Narmer Palette, which is the document with which written Egyptian history begins. It is about 5,000 years old. Not a very long time in the scheme of things. There has been a church on the site on Cornhill for a good proportion of that time, the first one having been built on the edge of the Forum of Roman London.
The Battlefield Palette

The Esses on the Collar are believed to stand for Sancte Spiritus - Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is always with us across time and with all of those people who have been part of human history, known or unknown.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Whole Church a Lantern and the Altar a Flame Within.

Today I preached forthe Epiphany at S Mary's Bourne Street. Poking about on their webiste I found an interesting reflection on the building, here. It mentions that there was a move to whitewas the red brick at one point, mercifully not followed through.
Red Brick in Bourne Street
It was Comper's building at S Cyprian's Clarence Gate which gave the impetus to this idea, and indeed Percy Dearmer had S Mary's Primrose Hill whitewashed in direct response to that building. the poit was that Comper was moving in a modernist direction, saying that the church has no other purpose than to be a container for the altar and reducing all else to the minimum.
Whitewash in Primrose Hill

I said something about all of this in a sermon for the dedication festival at S Cyprian's last year.

Sermon S Cyprian Clarence Gate Dedication Festival 2017
Ps 122:1 Let us go to the house of the Lord
Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; Hebrews 12.18-24; Matthew 21.12-16  

A dedication Festival is not the same as a patronal a Festival. That means a focus on God in Christ, who is worshipped here rather than on S Cyrprian who is commemorated here.  It seems that the consecration was a jolly good do. It asserted quite deliberately a particular teaching about the nature of the church. The rite was based upon the pontifical of EgbertArchbishop of York “because it embodied the real true ceremonial of the old Church Of England.” In other words it was designed to teach a long-standing, genuinely English and fully Catholic Christianity independent, as the late Oswald Clark said, of “Popish additions, protestant diminutions and liberal dilutions and deviations.” The records show there was a choir of nuns singing from the Rood beam, and that the nave was strewn with branches of pine, box and rose petals and the chancel with crimson roses and white lilies. Vestments were borrowed from all over, and the consecration candles were lit in front of the consecration crosses which we still see painted on the columns of the nave.

Modernist minimalism: the consecration crosses bold against the white pillars
But what is a church? It is not a synagogue, it is a temple. This is crucial to our understanding. The synagogue was the place of exile; the gathering of the people for the consideration of the Law; the congregation assembled to hear teaching and to offer mutual support. The church is never described in the New Testament in this way. The church is the body of Christ, and Jesus said that His body was the temple, which torn down would be rebuilt in three days. We have heard again just now the description of the church as the Holy City centred with the temple at its heart and centre. It was to the temple that the Lord went and where the sick and the lame came to meet him, and it was in the Temple, daily, that the apostles worshipped after his resurrection and ascension. So when we go to the House of the Lord it is to the Temple that we come.

The temple was the place of sacrifice. To come to church is to come the sacrifice of Christ, made once for all upon the cross. It is a sacrifice of multiple import. By it He bore the penalty for sin which was ours and became the propitiation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was a sacrifice not only of propitiation but of expiation: by it He cleansed us of sin, fulfilling once for all the sacrifice by which the High Priest would annually sprinkling blood on himself and in in the Holy of Holies to be able to enter into the presence of God. And it was the Paschal sacrifice which showed the membership of the chosen people and the passing over of the angel of death now fulfilled as He united himself entirely and completely with every aspect of our humanity even up to and including death that we might join with him in every aspect of his divinity up to and including his resurrection.
So our Temple is different from the one of old because we can come into it without fear and approach God, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The whole church a Lantern and the altar the flame within it
When Sir Ninian Comper built this church he attempted to express this theology of sacrifice by making the entire focus of the building the altar. “The open chancel screen, the transparency of which is completed by the great windows behind it, the low-down East window and those which like the also from the sides make the whole church a Lantern and make the altar the flame within it.”

So what we do in the church is quite simply to approach the sacrifice; to contemplate it, receive its grace, participate in it, feed on it, share it. S John in the Revelation, like S Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, describes the church as the bride of Christ. In the liturgical expression of this church this is emphasised. When he stands at the altar of Christ, the priest is in persona Christi offering the One sacrifice. We can have lots and lots of churches for the very reason that each of them is simply an expression in this place of the eternal city the new Jerusalem, and the people gathered here, are an expression in this place of the Bride coming to her husband adorned for her wedding, the one holy Catholic and apostolic church.
The whole church a Lantern, and the Altar the Flame within it
Engagement with the World
But is this to withdraw, to flee from the world and resile from engagement within it, building outposts of heaven on earth and barring the door against the darkness beyond?

No! The setting aside of the church and consecration to worship is the opposite of withdrawal. Again the very architecture helps us. Comper did not like chairs, and applauded the fact that they were used here only for those who really could not manage to stand through the service, and put away “by the congregation themselves” at the back of the church after use. This emphasised the clear open space and rational planning, everything directed towards its purpose, and nothing superfluous. It made S Cyprians important in the beginning of Modernism and it was praised by those who sought to reach out to new ways of thought at the beginning of the 20th century. It was designed to be open to the world.

The sacrifice made specifically for those who do not understand its necessity
The sacrifice was not made for an inward looking congregation, but specifically for those who do not understand its necessity, still less wished to attend its mysteries. Our beautiful church is given to us as a tool for our mission. It supports the teaching of theology, it provides a space for welcome, it is a base for reaching out, designed to be open and easy to access in the modern world. We have seen in recent days once again how it has helped those who have shared it to love their neighbour sacrificing energy time and money for those who are made poor and desperate.

And what you access when you come here is Mount Zion,  the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Good News to share
This is good news which it is easy to share, for it bubbles out of our lives when we have been fed through the sacrifice of Christ. Like a bride adorned for her husband we go out as ambassadors into the world glowing with the love which we have given and received, and encouraged to share that with our neighbours. The dedication of our church is a moment of rededication of our own lives to going out and proclaiming the gospel to others that they may come and share our joy.

Epiphany Chalk

The chalk on the Epiphany is one of those things that some people know very well, and others have never heard of at all.

The wrting of the traditional names of the magi on the lintel of the door is a way of marking the home and offering a symbol of Christian hospitality. It is also a little act of witness.

It even works if you have a double glazed front door rather than helpful brickwork as you can write the words on a paper and put it up inside the glass.