God with us

May 5, 2019

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Preached by the very Reverend Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester using Rev 5: 11 – end and John 21: 1 – 19 at  Sunday Eucharist Community Day on Sunday 5th May 2019, the Third Sunday of Easter.

Alleluia he is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleuia!

In these days of Easter we celebrate the love of God that triumphs over death and human darkness.  The love that breaks out of all restraints, and breaks into closed doors and closed hearts.  We celebrate God’s living presence with us today.

And our scripture today show us, in brilliant contrast, ways in which we can experience the reality of God’s presence.  Today is our Community day and I’d like us to reflect on these contrasting experiences because it seems to me that they speak directly to us, not just as Christians today, but as people who gather to worship and serve here, in this wonderful place.

In the Revelation to John the writer is given a vision of worship that takes place eternally in the heavens, in which myriads of angels and heavenly creatures are singing ‘Worthy is the lamb’ and the song of heaven is echoed on earth, with every creature joining in as the song continues, ‘Blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’

So the whole of creation, everything and everyone on earth and in heaven is joined in worship of God.  In unity and harmony.

So in our cathedral worship, we understand that earthly music and worship are signs of heavenly music and worship, lifting us to join with the eternal song of heaven and that we can glimpse unity with what is universal and transcendent.  In worship we feel for a while, what is always true, that we are part of something infinitely great.

Great places of worship, such as this cathedral, have been built to embody this greater vision.  Of God’s presence, and God’s people through time and space.  And some of the profound response in France to the huge fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is surely the realisation that this building somehow connects them with one another, with history and identity, and things much greater than themselves.  This is what cathedrals do.  And cathedrals are built so that we experience being overwhelmed.  The architecture, worship and silence can all lead to overwhelming and transcendent experiences.

A friend of mine had such an experience, in a place like this.  As a teenager, raised in an atheist family, he came on a school trip to one of the great English cathedrals (almost as fine as this one…) He and his class mates were invited to lie on the floor and look up at the vaults soaring above them.  It was then that, for the first time in his life, he experienced an overwhelming sense of the presence of God – utterly overwhelming.  It was God’s presence breaking into his life.  And the course of his life changed from there, leading him to become a Christian and later a priest.

These building do their work.  Revealing the glorious, living, overwhelming presence of God.  Changing our perspective, our place in time and in space and in relationship with creation.  Helping us glimpse heaven on earth.

And it’s the task of each generation to care for this great heritage, to have a vision for its care and renewal.  Later today in our Community meeting we’ll be able to celebrate all that’s been achieved here in recent years to care for this inheritance, so that all who come here, now and in generations to come, have the chance to experience that connection with the living God.  God who inspires, renews and unites us with all creation, earthly and heavenly.

In complete contrast, our second reading from John’s Gospel shows us God’s presence, in familiarity, forgiveness, kindness and care.

This happens, a week or so after the resurrection, when some of the disciples went fishing.  For Peter this was a return to what was familiar in his old life, in uncertain days, he knew where he was with fishing.  But all night the fishermen failed to make a catch.  Then a stranger called from the shore and told them to cast the nets on the other side and they did, and the catch was huge.  And then they recognise their friend, the risen Lord.  Peter rushes ahead through the water, the others row to shore.  And there (I love this) is a most wonderful sight and sound and smell.   Imagine, after a long tiring and fruitless night on the water, you come to shore to see a warm charcoal fire, with fish cooking, and fresh bread.  And Jesus says, come and have breakfast.  No wonder people loved him.  Here is a Saviour who cares for the whole of us, body and soul and understands our hungers for food, for warmth and kindness.  Love that is tangible.  It was Archbishop William Temple who said: ‘Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.’  It’s a striking sentence.  He didn’t mean materialistic in the sense of spending and accumulating possessions, he means that for Christianity the material world, including our bodies, convey Gods love and generosity and we see this in the incarnation.

Over again, Jesus shows love in tangible ways, feeding, cleaning, washing. The daily, ordinary things of family life and of caring.  Outward and visible signs of love.  He comes to us now, in the material reality of bread and wine.

And we are members of the body of Christ in this place and are called to share this love, here, with all who come.  This is a high calling and a great responsibility.  Our ministry of hospitality and services to visitors, our welcome, how we make eye contact, pay attention, show kindness, these sacraments of care, outward and tangible signs of God’s loving presence.  This is a high responsibility.  The cathedral is both this great building, and its us! We are the cathedral today.  If people say, ‘the cathedral is warm and friendly’ they aren’t talking about the heating system, they are talking about us, congregations, staff, volunteers.  If people were to say, ‘the cathedral is cold, distant and unfriendly’.  It’s an awesome responsibility.

Scripture shows us how God is with us now, both transcendent and tangible, may we continue to respond to his loving presence and grace.

We who have been given so much are called to share with others, sharing this place and its heritage, and sharing our lives.  May God, who has given us so much,

renew us by his Spirit,

inspire us with his love

and unite us in the body of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.