Sunday, February 03, 2019

Sermon for Evensong for the Feast of the Presentation at Coventry Cathedral 3rd Feb 2019

6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The great Temple is gone worship happens's structure long since broken down....its site fought over....only a vestige remains as a place of prayer, the Western Wall
"How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people; how is she become as a widow?
She that was great among the nations, how is she become tributary?

Two weeks ago, I found myself there on a Friday evening, just after Shabbat had begun, and that remembrance shaped my response to this passage and has indeed affected how I think about our own experience of ruin and restoration here in Coventry.
Let me tell you about it.
Just after sunset, We pass through a turn-stile and approach the square in front of the Wall, to the sound of uninhibited, joyful singing: and surely, yes, there is a group dancing - an exuberant  circle dance that makes me long to join
There is so much activity all around us. A father is briefing his small son on what to do, what to expect..Suddenly, I'm desperate to be part of this family, a daughter of Sarah, to join this community at prayer, if only there might be room for me.
I cover my head and begin to make my way timidly towards that part of the Wall where women are permitted to pray. I wonder how obvious it is that I am not a Jew...Whether I may be recognised and denounced as an interloper.
At that moment I want, more than anything else, to belong.
I watch the comings and goings  realising gradually that if I want to touch the stones at all, I will have to be be brave and determined and push myself forward through the crowds. There doesnt seem to be a system, a queue...(how very English of me to even half expect one!)...
Careful manoeuvring gains me a space and I  find myself somewhat unexpectedly kissing ancient stone, because it feels like absolutely the right and only thing to do. I push my folded prayer as deep as I can into a crack between the stones, where it joins the countless others.  I think about the impact of so many devout and desperate cries to God here in this place...about all those who are  praying around me now, and all those who had prayed before me, and will pray here long after I' have gone. The longing of an exiled people, to be able to rest here, to return time and again to pray, to join the crowds and whisper petitions to the God who though not confined to any Holy of Holies, has been worshipped here for so long, wrings at my heart and becomes my longing too.
I feel very much at home.

But, isnt that extraordinary! Something amazing has happened.
I without a drop of Jewish blood in my veins can take  my place here at the heart of Jewish tradition
Though the destruction of the Temple seemed utter disaster, it has opened the space to make room for pilgrims from across the world, in fulfillment of God's promise
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.
Looking around me it feels as if Isaiah's prophecy is being lived out
By being reduced to just one wall, a space has been made here....
We are at the heart of one of the most troubled cities in the world, indeed one of the most troubled in all human history, a place where different faiths have struggled and fought and wept for centuries, a place truly shaken to its core again and again and again.
And here God has acted, to enable the prayers of all peoples to find a place despite the loss of the building initially built to enable it.
We still haven't reached a point of peace....but at least the journey is under way, whatever it may look like

Now cast your mind to a broken building rather more familiar to us here.
A building now open to the skies, accessible and inviting to those who would not normally enter this shiney new building next door
A building that was loved,  cherished, prayed in for generations whose impact has been enlarged beyond the wildest dreams of those who had gathered there before the world was changed BY ITS DESTRUCTION
And yes,  the glory of the present house, broken as it is, far far exceeds everything that went before, even though something of great beauty and significance has been lost.

We'd never plan it that way ourselves would we?
We'd choose to hang on to those things we have made, to the security of those things in which we have invested emotions, time, money....but remember  "the silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty"
This is God's Church, God's mission to love the world into relationship with one another and with God.
God is always bigger,
God's presence and God's agenda cannot be confined within any space, no matter how beautiful,  no matter how beloved.
So on this day when we celebrate the presentation of Christ in the Temple, revealed as a light to the nations,  we recognise that the fullest revelation of his light shone forth from the cross,  which broke open all human understandings of our relationship with God and with one another.
We know too that that revelation both broke his mother's heart...and saw him dead and buried.
There is cost in the journey of transformation.

So let's ask for  the grace and the courage to surrender ourselves and the Church we love to this wider, wiser divine vision....trusting that beyond all our smaller losses, smaller deaths and moments of destruction, God's transforming power is at work, which will bring about by God's grace the greater glory of resurrection,

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