|6:00pm||Passion Sunday Organ Recital - Simon Johnson|
Sermon preached on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (28 May 2017) by the Reverend Helen O’Sullivan, Chaplain and Priest Vicar
Reflecting on the end of Eastertide and the cycle of the church's seasons, the Chaplain reminds us that although "the days between Ascension and Pentecost are set aside as days of prayer that we might be refreshed in the Holy Spirit...we don’t have to wait for any of it...for now is eternal life."
Over the last seven weeks we have (or at least I have) delighted in hearing the Easter Anthems sung at this service of choral martins each week. Today was the last day that we hear them until Easter Day next year and what a glorious setting it was.
I am almost, almost, tempted to ask Mr Carwood to invite the choir to sing them again, and I’ll just go back to my seat - but perhaps I ought to say more and leave you looking forward to their return next year.
The Easter Anthems are unique in the Book of Common Prayer. Surviving the rationalisation or decimation of liturgy (depending on which way you look at these things) during the Reformation, these few verses were the only variations permitted in the liturgy, aside from the prefaces for Christmas Day, Easter Day, The Ascension, Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday, the only and exceptional deviation from the standard prescribed texts.
Subsequent revisions of our liturgy have allowed for various uses of the anthems as an alternative to the opening psalmody for Morning Prayer. The 1928 Prayer Book (never adopted) made provision for the anthems to be sung throughout the Easter Octave, the Alternative Service Book allowed for them to be used as a substitute to the invitatory on any day of the year and in Common Worship they may be used daily throughout the Easter Season.
But in the Prayer Book, in its regular form, they are still to be sung once and once only on Easter Day. And so I am grateful to the Precentor for his turning a blind eye to this particular injunction.
The seasonal variations that our liturgy allows nowadays are, I think, something to be embraced as they enable us to highlight, or to underscore different themes and different concerns; it ensures that we pay attention to the whole of our human experience.
Nevertheless, there is something in the old adage less is more and it is worth us thinking a little bit about why these particular verses of scripture were deemed to be so very essential, that the order of the prayer book was set aside to accommodate them.
In the old Catholic Sarum rite these verses were sung as the blessed sacrament and the cross were brought out from the sepulchre in which they had been placed on Good Friday and placed on the altar.
All of the texts are from the letters of Paul, our patron and, love him or hate him, as a theologian there are few, if any, that are quite so energetic or passionate in the presentation of their faith.
Christ our passover is sacrificed for us therefore let us keep the feast.
It’s not often that I favour the Authorised Version of the Bible over the NRSV, but the Easter Anthems are, I think unquestionably better in the Authorised Version (1 Corinthians 5.7-8).
We retain the first of these verses in the invitation to Communion in the Easter season and you will hear this, again for the last time for a while, in our Eucharist a little later this morning.
These first verses, a 1662 addition, are a call to worship, and a purity of heart in worship. And by worship Paul is not simply referring to religious practice but the worship of God through our whole being; the offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies; our lives, all that we are and all that we have been gifted with.
The second set of verses (Romans 6.9-11) reassure us of Christ's victory over death and our sharing in that victory and eternal life in Christ through our Baptism.
And the third set (1 Corinthians 15.20-22), that Christ’s sharing in our humanity confirms and confers our share in his divinity, his victory, his transcendence of the corrupted and mercurial - to the immutable and abiding love of God.
Who was Paul talking to? In his correspondence with the church in Corinth Paul was talking to a community that was divided, where relationships had broken down, where factions were appearing and accusations, recriminations and partiality were undermining unity within the community (sound familiar?).
In Romans Paul starts by describing a problem, our frail humanity, so easily misguided and corrupted by greed, lust, selfishness, a lack of compassion and respect for one another as beloved of God (sound familiar?). And Paul asserts in these and his other writings that it doesn’t need to be like this, it doesn’t need to be like this. That we have, humanity has, in Christ, been transformed through his death and resurrection, and that we are incorporate, incorporated into the divine life.
We celebrated three Baptisms here at St Paul’s yesterday morning, Baptism being the sacrament which celebrates that incorporation into the divine life. There will be another Baptism this afternoon and it is just wonderful for me, time after time, to see the joy, the compassion and fellow feeling of each to the other when people gather together to celebrate these occasions.
When we focus, in the moment, on the truth, that we have been raised to new life in Christ who has conquered sin and death, then it seems to me, time and again, that years of anger, of fear, of disappointment, of hatred, or shame and humiliation can, and often does, simply fall away.
The days between Ascension and Pentecost are set aside as days of prayer that we might be refreshed in the Holy Spirit. But, whilst the church celebrates a calendar which moves us through the seasons, we don’t have to wait for any of it, for Pentecost, for Trinity Sunday, for Advent to come around again, or even for the next rendition of our Easter Anthems for now is eternal life.
Nothing changes until you and I know that truth and once you and I know that truth, everything changes.