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.


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