Saturday, May 30, 2015

Trinity and Cathedral - words for Trinity Sunday at Alcester Minster, 31st May 2015

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...

Before I've said another word, that opening prayer puts us straight into the heart of God.......and straight into the heart of today's feast.
Trinity Sunday – the day when limited human minds, and limited human language attempt to explore the nature of the God who is beyond all our greatest imaginings, our finest words.
The day when preachers across the world tie themselves in knots trying to explain the inexplicable, and stop, scratching their heads like Nicodemus to exclaim "How can such things be?"....and the day when curates, retired clergy and even the odd cathedral canon find themselves pressed into service as wise incumbents everywhere step AWAY from the pulpit.

Thankfully, though, Adrian took pity on me and suggested that you might be more interested in thinking about the life of the cathedral – and how it relates to the parishes, rather than my own personal selection of heresies .. and, in fact, as I thought about that I realised that, maybe surprisingly, the doctrine of the Trinity was part of the equation.

You see, the Trinity is, as I understand it, very much about God in relationship. If God is love, then Love needs a Beloved...
So, we have a God who lives in relationship - utterly self-giving relationship. 
Where all is mutual exchange and regard, there is no hierarchy, no anxiety over precedence.
Instead the love that defines and informs the one reaches out and spills over into the other
Look, says the Father.......look at the Son........
Look, says the Son...........look at the Spirit
They gaze at one another in mutual love and delight – and invite us to do the same – to participate in their love and to draw others to do so as well.

So – my favourite image of the Trinity is not St Patrick's shamrock, nor the other well-worn alternatives – water/ice/steam – neapolitan ice-cream (three flavours, one ice cream) – nor even jaffa cakes (chocolate/orange/sponge making one biscuit). 
My favourite image is that famous Rublev icon which depicts three figures sitting around a table. The icon is often called “The Hospitality of Abraham” - recalling those three strangers who appeared to Abraham out of the heat haze of the desert... It depicts three figures seated around a table, each intent on the other – but with the fourth side of the table empty, waiting – so that the whole icon is an invitation to us to come, sit, complete the circle.

And – That's what the Cathedral is about.
It's about invitation, to a place of hospitality, a theatre of memory where the story of Jesus and the story of the diocese come together, as we gather as a family around our bishop. Of course, a cathedral is nothing more than the place where the bishop has his seat – but because it is there, it gives a focus and a family identity to the whole diocese... That's what enables me to be with you today. We're family, related to one another through the relationship we have with our bishop...and the Cathedral is the place where that relationship is presented in concrete form.
(I promise I wasn't playing for laughs when I wrote that last sentence – but of course our cathedral is undeniably more “concrete” than many examples! For some, it's part of its charm)
Where the bishop sits, there he gathers his people. He instructs, encourages, admonishes, and challenges – and brings us together to share in the family meal... It is here that the unity of the church becomes visible, as the Body of Christ gathers at the altar. This is the prime expression of the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, as we will affirm in the Credd very shortly. And, just as the bishop is called to be a focus for unity, inviting us all to gather to share Word and Sacrament together, so the Cathedral too should be a place of inclusive hospitality.

We see that as we welcome parishes for confirmations, ordinations and other big events. Some describe the Cathedral as the mother church of the diocese – but I'd want to resist the suggestion of seniority present there. I think we're siblings together – but we just happen to have a larger house, so it makes sense for family meals to be held there. It's all about making space to renew relationships, to celebrate shared joys and significant events but also a place to explore differences and speak of reconciliation. Our Cathedral stands as living symbol of resurrection and healing through brokenness....and so offers a safe space to gather and hold individual and community stories of brokenness and restoration, tales of a city destroyed, reborn, and travelling onward.
Archbishop Justin says that we're specially blessed in Coventry, because, as a Cathedral, we have a particular vocation, beyond simply “look at me, I'm a Cathedral”. At the heart of our ministry is the vision from 2 Corinthians 5:19
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and has entrusted us with that ministry of reconciliation”...
In practice this means we offer a safe space in which to acknowledge hard truths and name wounds where they exist, for until we recognise ourselves as we are, we're unable to grasp the reconciliation that God offers us in Christ. Our vocation has three aspects, looking back as we work to heal the wounds of history, learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity in our lives today and building a culture of peace that offers hope for the future.
That's often challenging – for us and for you, the wider family. We are called to nurture a reconciled and reconciling people, a people that understands that difference & diversity is part of life and won't try to bury inconvenient truths or don a mask of uniformity. Sounds good, but can be acutely uncomfortable, for it involves running the risk of honesty and vulnerability, as we offer hospitality to people whom we might find deeply uncongenial. So sometimes your cathedral may seem to be welcoming someone or something that you would prefer not to engage with...It might just be that we are uncomfortable too...but are sure that we cannot sidestep the responsibility to be a place where all stories are heard and honoured. He never said it was easy!

More straightforwardly, of course, we're just another church among many. Bigger, perhaps...more noticeable...with a bit of a “wow” factor if you like that kind of thing.
I first visited the Cathedral as a small child brought by my parents...who were enthusiastic church-crawlers, so I was no stranger to visits to all sorts of places of worship. Usually, though, they were small, quite dark and very very old – so the impact of stepping into that place of openness and light was extraordinary.
I never knew God was so BIG was my first reaction...and if we can express to other visitors something of the majesty of God, - then we're fulfilling part of our role, as we stand a sign of God's presence in and care for his world.
A year ago today, when I walked up the aisle with my previous congregation to be installed as a Canon, my feelings as I looked at the Sutherland tapestry of Christ in Glory were very much like those of Isaiah
Woe is me, for I am a person of unclean lips...”.I felt small,inadequate and altogether unworthy. That's not perhaps the ideal message for any church to put across...but then I realised that, just as there's space for humanity at the table in Rublev's icon, so there is one small, representative human figure standing between the feet of Christ in Sutherland's tapestry. From there, the figure is safe, protected, and able to look out on the world from Christ's perspective...something that we are all invited to do, as we come to worship and be transformed.

For your cathedral represents in itself a story of our life in Christ, which was at the heart of Spence's vision when he designed the new cathedral. Pilgrims gather in the ruins, the place of brokenness, as we all do when we meet to worship week by week. We start by acknowledging faults and failures...represented by that place where wounds are obvious and visible, where there is no chance to gloss them over. As we leave the ruins (carrying some scars with us, just as those very ruins speak daily of the wounds of history) we travel through the company of saints and angels on the west screen and, eyes fixed on Christ, walk towards the altar – the table where there is room for all.
There God's life is offered, represented by a fragment of bread and a sip of wine – and then as pilgrims turn they find the austere building transformed as light breaks through the stained glass that was invisible on the journey towards the altar. It is in that new light that they go out – WE go out – to live God's life in the world...and if the cathedral helps us to understand that process, then it is doing a good job.

Each one of us, marked as we are by that transforming hope that is at the heart of our faith, is likewise called to be a sign of God's kingdom breaking in. Churches and cathedrals alike are built of living stones...without them, they are simply difficult, costly buildings with no real purpose.

Whom shall I send and who shall go for us? Here I am send me...

Our common purpose, as the Body of Christ, dispersed today but gathered sometimes around our bishop in his Cathedral Church of St Michael, is to reflect in our lives that perfect community which the Trinity models. Here there is no sense of anxiety over who might be the senior partner, but a joyful sharing of resources, a mutual enrichment based on self-giving love.

That, when you come to think of it, is not a bad model for our life as the Church here – and everywhere – joyfully sharing resources in mutual give and take without reserve, demarcation or division...our common life rooted and grounded in the self giving love of Christ, to whom be glory with the Father and the Spirit both now and always.

No comments: