Sermon preached at Evensong on the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity (19 November 2017) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain
The Chaplain encourages us not to see life purely as a probationary period, but to recognise, as Jesus taught, that 'now is eternal life'.
Today we have a chorister. No longer a probationer, sitting patiently (well perhaps not always quite so patiently) on the benches. Now it's time to take on a new role, as a full member of our choir.
And one day in the not too distant future it will be another probationer’s turn, but for now our probationers have plenty to do, learning words and music, learning to cope with a starched collar, and learning how not to trip up in a cassock, which is a challenge for clergy too!
And I hope they will appreciate their time on the probationers’ benches and not see it simply as waiting for the real thing. Because for all of us, whatever we are involved in at the moment, whether or not it is where we hope to be for long - this is the real thing.
We can all find waiting frustrating, waiting for a promotion, for the weather to improve, the days to lengthen, for bed-time (that’s my personal favourite) but whatever is ahead of us, is not what is, and it is what is - here and now - that is the most precious thing in the world, not what will be, until it is.
Yes our new chorister will be on top of the moon this evening from this achievement today and why shouldn’t he be, but how about if we could all know ourselves to be in exactly the right place all the time, because here and now is where we discover ourselves, and know ourselves to be part of something astonishing, rather than as it sometimes feels, just something less than perfect.
Many of us will be captivated by Blue Planet II at the moment and awed by the multitude of creatures we have never even dreamt might exist, but hey, that fish that walks on the bottom of the ocean, the Sea Toad, utterly astonishing thing that it is, would be utterly astonished if it were able to even begin to comprehend that miles above it, and in a city far away, a portion of Psalm 89 was sung to the Russell chant here in St Paul’s Cathedral this afternoon.
This is a universe in which the most beautiful things happen all the time, fish walk, choristers sing, planets align and God presence is known, with a voice like a trumpet and like the sound of many waters and in the silence and the stillness and the in-between breaths, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, and who was, and who is coming.
We comprehend something of this astonishing reality when we are involved in worship because I think that worship brings us to a point of presence and of appreciation of the sublime (and by that I mean in the romantic sense something awe inspiring) that is actually endemic in creation, (to which Hopkins refers in God’s Grandeur sung tonight as the anthem, saying the world is charged with the grandeur of God) but that it is so easy to become distracted from when we forget that our job is 24/7 worship, not just with our lips but in our lives, and we fall back into everyday mode of waiting for, or striving for, or being frustrated by, rather than appreciating - appreciating the astonishing beauty of my and your being.
It is tempting to see the whole of our life as a probationary period, when we are tested, and made to jump through the hoops, hanging on in here, whilst we wait to attain everlasting life, in which we are to find fulfilment through the grace of God. But as Jesus was forever telling his disciples, now is eternal life.
God is with us, we are being held in God’s love.
The Revelation to John which we heard the beginning of in our second reading might be something you want to return to, and read, or better still, hear read to you, to give you a sense of the nowness of God.
The book of Revelation is by tradition read in the evenings throughout November in the run up to the end of the Christian year. It can be rather perplexing when heard as a one off fragment rather than day by day, but immerse yourself in it and you will begin to read your own story of hope and despair and joy and sorrow and life and death and new life within in.
Apocalypses or Revelations, the word apocalypse means uncovering (such as we find also in the Old Testament in Ezekiel and Daniel) are narrative works that describe a vision or visitation, they include heavenly beings, heavenly journeys, speaking animals, symbolic numbers and colours.
So you can immediately appreciate that, with the book of Revelation as with all Apocalypses, we are dealing with many layers of meaning.
Revelation also challenges our assumptions that texts have a linear progression – the idea that this happens, and then that happens and then…and so on. To read Revelation like that is to make a big mistake. Revelation is rather a sequence of different perspectives, earthly and heavenly.
So it’s helpful to read it remembering that it is running different stories in parallel, essentially the story of salvation from the perspectives of heaven and earth.
It is then simultaneously a view of the struggles of its own time, and a view of the struggles of our time, and a view of the timeless I am. The first, the last and the living One, of what was, and is, here and there - outside time.
It reminds us fundamentally that we already live under the aspect of eternity and in our worship this evening we join in the Holy Holy Holy of the four living creatures and the twenty four elders and the great multitude that no one can count, in the worship of the Lamb who stands as if he has been slaughtered.
It is not about the end times, it is about the now times, when we see glimpses, like doorways briefly opening into different but simultaneous dimensions of what is. Again Hopkins tells us in his poem, nature is never spent, and the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods.
And so in this place, when we give thanks for all that has fallen into place for our new chorister today, let us know that at the same time things are falling into place for ourselves, and for all those on our hearts this evening.