Sermon preached on Sunday 21st August 2016 by The Revd Helen O'Sullivan - Chaplain

Today at the Cathedral View More
12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached on Sunday 21st August 2016 by The Revd Helen O'Sullivan - Chaplain

What is it that brings you to the Eucharist, to the celebration of Holy Communion?

I don't mean particularly here to St Paul’s today, where we meet in this extraordinary space, and enjoy such beautiful music and singing.

There is nothing quite like being part of worship in this space, the cathedral comes alive when it does what it was built to do. The aspiration that this architecture embodies, the often astonishing words that we sing and the beauty of the melodies which accompany those astonishing words, are sublime.

But strip away these breath-taking surroundings, enriched and enhanced by the music of the organ and choir, and ask yourself what is it that is elemental, fundamental to your coming to the celebration of Holy Communion.

For some of you, this might be the first time you have ever been to a Eucharist, and so you might be asking yourself, why do Christians do this?

Now this is not the sort of pulpit in which one can enter easily into a dialogue and so, if I may, I will tell you why the Eucharist is something of extraordinary importance to me, I might goes so far as to say that this is something that I simply could not live without, and invite you to think about what the Eucharist is and does for you.

Our reasons, our motivation, might be different, but I believe that in the performance of this rite, and I use that word deliberately as we do deliberately perform this liturgy; we are engaged in something which I believe radically challenges our status quo, and I like a challenge!

For me, for as long as I can remember, and certainly before I could make any sense of it (and I couldn’t claim to make perfect sense of it now);

however boring the sermon,

however bad the hymns,

however cold the church,

however unfriendly the congregation,

the Eucharist, this liturgy of Holy Communion, is the place where I most profoundly experience my humanity, in all its flawed frailty, nevertheless incorporated with the Divine, in relationship with the living God.

Little me, an almost imperceptibly small speck of life, in an unimaginably vast universe, but no less a part of the created order than any other small speck, and joined together throughout space and time, with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven, in praise and worship of the one who was and is and is to come. Who shared our human life that we might share his risen life.

In this sacred space that the Eucharist is, we touch eternity.

The wonderful hymn we sang at the beginning of our worship this morning, Praise my soul the King of heaven, has another verse which is universally omitted. But it is this verse that underlines the wonder, the miracle of our existence and of our integral part in the eternal act of worship which is the beginning and the end of everything we are, and of everything we do. Or at least it should be.

Frail as summer's flower we flourish,

Blows the wind and it is gone;

But while mortals rise and perish

God endures unchanging on,

Praise Him, praise Him,

Praise Him, praise Him,

Praise the High Eternal One!

The Eucharist reminds us of, and recalls us to our true purpose, to offer ourselves, our lives, in worship.

And through this remembering and retelling of our story we are drawn to contemplate our unique place in this cosmic drama.

Our New Testament readings over the last couple of weeks have been taken from Hebrews. Now the writer of Hebrews sets out a rich and powerful theology of atonement and it is here more than in any other of the NT writings that we are presented most fully and beautifully with the wonder of this reconciliation between humanity and God. That in the incarnation (the sharing of our life and the experience of our death) we are drawn by Christ’s resurrection out of our isolation, our separation and into communion, with one another, in God.

In the Catholic tradition at the prayers at the preparation of the table when the gifts of bread and wine are offered - the priest takes water and mixes it with wine and prays a prayer that crystallises this, our faith, saying;

by the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity

Those few words say for me all that has ever needed to be said and will ever need to be said, that we have been reconciled to God in Christ and that the only job left to us to do is to live in that love.

To respond to it with our whole heart and mind and soul. It really is, I think, that simple but of course that is what we find so difficult. To really believe that there is nothing we can do to make God love us, or anyone else, more, and nothing we can do to make God love us, or anyone else, less, well it just goes against common sense. Surely there must be a score card somewhere with ticks and crosses on it (we certainly keep those on each other don’t we, so it’s only natural to imagine that God keeps one on us).

It is just so hard for us to accept that God has in Christ reconciled the world to himself, that we quickly fall back into old habits of trying to prove our own or to test someone else's capacity for charity, when there is no need to prove ourselves, for it is God who has proved his love for us, it is accomplished.

I come to the sacrament of the Eucharist because it is here that I am reminded that what I need to do is to let go of my own agenda and to live in God’s love and if I do that then I begin to see Christ in those around me (and believe me I do sometimes need a little bit of help to see through the obstacles that people can put in the way of letting the light of Christ shine through them, and my own temptation to keep score of my own or someone else progress to holiness).

It is in the celebration of the sacraments, and in the Eucharist in particular that I am confronted and challenged by God’s love for us and so am reminded to be more mindful day by day of God’s love for another, however irritated or angry or hurt or let down or confused they might make me feel.

It won’t always stop me feeling what I feel, in fact it rarely does, but it usually stops me from acting out of anger, or hurt or confusion. And there is surely enough anger hurt and confusion in the world without my adding to it, by even the smallest amount.

Believe me I am no saint but whatever love I am able to reflect comes from sharing in this feast of love week by week, where with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we proclaim God’s great and glorious name.

We believe that God has in Christ reconciled the world to himself and yet there is one more thing that needs to be done, each of us needs to let go of our own agendas and allow ourselves to live fully in that love, it’s a lifetimes work but through the celebration of the sacraments we are recalled to this task and challenged to see ourselves and one another as God sees us.

Part of the body of Christ incorporated through Christ’s life death and resurrection and called to continually offer ourselves our souls and bodies, our whole lives, in response to the gift of self giving love that we celebrate again here today. Amen.