Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, Easter 3 A

Today, with our Cathedral's AGM taking place early this afternoon, it’s perhaps a good time to think about what we stand I spent a bit of time yesterday exploring the far flung corners of the internet, to seeing what others believed we were about.
Thus I read that that “cathedrals and churches architecturally prepare our souls for the beauty of the Eucharist” - a line that made me think instantly of the journey from West Screens to High Altar which is so integral to the very shape of our building. If you're visiting this morning and have yet to make that journey - we really do recommend it.
I read too that they are “Flagships of the Spirit”, (presumably because the bishop whose seat gives a cathedral its name, is the nearest thing to an admiral that a diocese has…In a landlocked diocese like ours, make of that what you will! )Finally, in a wonderful essay by the Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, I was reminded that cathedrals, like those very bishops who sit on their “cathedra”,must be apostolic, prophetic and prayerful

So let’s consider what that might mean for us.

Are we apostolic?
The word itself might make you anxious, suggesting a focus on looking over the shoulder to confirm that our line of succession is just as it should be, - but actually, that’s not heart of the matter at all. To be apostolic is to be always on the move, to be SENT. Think of those weary men running – (yes, I know Luke doesn't actually say so, but somehow there's no doubt ..)RUNNING back to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with the risen Christ.
That’s what it is to be apostolic!
Cathedrals, no less than parish churches, are always on a mission…less an institution, more a movement...despite the fact that there is no getting away from the building, with all its beauty and all its demands. Whereas as a parish priest I could say to visitors "I'm sorry. I can show you the building, but the church is out and about - at school, in the shops, walking the dogs, working in Sainsbury's", here there is no escaping the fact that the cathedral IS the building....though of course it needs your presence if it is to be anything beyond a rather imposing shell.
It is a building where we gather as people on a mission...apostolic people...
Using the model that is currently part of our diocesan DNA, this part of our calling is to “Need oriented evangelism” - because, like it or not, we do have good news to share.
We may not feel ourselves fired up like Peter preaching at Pentecost, but just think for a moment about what brought you here, here to this particular place rather than any other
Many of you, I’m sure, were drawn by all that this cathedral represents...the very fabric demonstrating to the post-war world that international peace and co-operation was a serious option, that reconciliation was worth striving for, committing to as a way of being every single day.
You came to stand in the apostolic tradition, to live into the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and has entrusted us with the ministry of reconcilition.
And that calling is no less real, no less immediate now than it was in 1962.
We have a gospel to proclaim….

And of course, that calling to Reconciliation, is also prophetic, speaking truth to power, offering challenge, modelling another way for a world that is all too quick to jump from posturing to action.
So far, so good then.

What about being prayerful? On one level, that’s peculiarly easy for us. Maintaining the tradition that has been part of this place since Leofric and Godiva established the Benedictine community of St Mary’s, we live each day within the bookends provided by the Daily Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, which holds together all that we do and all that we are. You might argue that it’s sometimes a rather vicarious exercise. It’s relatively rare for any members of the cathedral community to join us, unless they are already on duty as stewards...but vicarious faith has long been part of the mission of the Church of England and certainly that structure of daily prayer and worship provides the trellis on which faith and ministry can grow in this place.

But – is it growing? That’s maybe a question we’d prefer not to engage with, on a day when we want to be able to celebrate all that has been good in our shared life over the past year. Certainly I don’t want to draw us down to wallow in a slough of despond...but I wonder if you found yourself wistful, maybe even envious, as you listened to this morning’s readings, with stories of lives transformed in an instant.

Time for my favourite question, then.
I wonder where you are in the story?

Do you feel excited or guilt ridden listening to Peter’s preaching. He’s truly on fire for God, in a way that might make the rest of us feel just a little inadequate. But don’t forget – this is the same man who denied his Lord three times, and who was so haunted by his own fears that he couldn’t even bring himself to stand at the foot of the cross. Perhaps his inadequacies might, after all, match our own – but here, at last, is his moment of transformation.
Finally – FINALLY – Peter has become the rock that Jesus always knew he could be. He is ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, and so he sets out his stall in unmistakeable, uncompromising terms. No beating about the bush.
He is offering eternal truths and wants there to be no room for confusion.
Therefore let the whole house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified”

What about it? Are you among those swayed by his preaching – one of the three thousand whose lives were changed then and there...or are you still asking questions on the edge of the crowd? I wonder where you are in the story.

Perhaps you simply feel weary, like those dis-spirited travellers who were making their way out of Jerusalem, desperate to put the scenes of the recent horror behind them, to get right away from the hostile crowds, the soldiers on street corners and their own all-embracing disappointment
We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel”
So many hopes, dashed on Good Friday. 
"They stood still, looking sad". What else could they do? Where could they go? It seemed their exciting adventure had ended at a brick wall. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, and those unsettling rumours of missing bodies and unexpected angels just seemed to make everything worse.
More questions than answers, that’s for sure...and now the company of a stranger who is so out of the loop that he doesn’t appear to have heard anything at all about all that you’ve been through.
The road to Emmaus seems longer, more tiring than ever before – except that somehow this man’s impromptu lesson in faith and history is strangely engaging, even energising.
Despite yourself, you feel more alive than you’ve done since that last meal in the Upper Room.
Perhaps, like those travellers, you are waiting for a moment of clarity – for Jesus to make himself known to you satisfy the hunger you can barely articulate….
You are longing to encounter your Lord, unexpectedly, waiting your energy and your faith to be restored in an instant as you meet him in the breaking of the bread.
Is that where you are in the story?

Or is it just too far off and long ago for you to place yourself in the story at all?
Is a God of broken body and broken bread not quite what you were hoping for?
Though we know here, better than most, the unexpected strength and transforming hope that can emerge from brokenness, it may still seem too long since our hearts burned within us as we came to worship.
Are we disappointed with God, wanting to ask him “Is this it? There must be more, surely”

Time, then, to listen again to Peter’s hear these words and claim them for our own...
You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him”
This, surely, is the answer to our inadequacies and our weariness, the key to that “passionate spirituality” which is one of the hall marks of a healthy growing church.
It’s not something we can do for ourselves, not something that demands further efforts, an outlay of time or commitment that we struggle to muster.
It’s a gift...a gift waiting to be claimed...a gift that brings with it all the extraordinary life-giving power of God.
This promise is for you and for your children
For we who are part of the Coventry Cathedral story here and now, and those who will come after
A gift from the one who makes all things new.

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