Pentecost – Cathedral Eucharist- 24.05.15
“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” I suppose we could say here are some ‘Fresh expressions’ from the book of Acts – the barriers were down and the mission could begin.
I’m a traditionalist by nature, but I actually do believe it is vital for a cathedral, like ours here in Ripon, to be on the leading edge of what the church likes to call ‘fresh expressions’! Not quite in the way we see it in a parish church perhaps, but certainly in a strong desire to communicate ‘the good news’ with all, not just through the traditional, but through the contemporary ‘fresh expression’ as well. The traditional Declaration of Assent which Anglican clergy, readers and licensed lay workers make on taking up a new appointment speaks of the faith we hold, “which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”.
However, it’s not those over-used words ‘fresh expressions’ but the words ‘leading edge’ – on which I wish to focus on this Day of Pentecost, this birthday of the church, this day when barriers were shattered and the spirit was at work. So let’s just think of those words ‘leading edge’for a moment . With them we are referring to something that has a defined boundary, perhaps a barrier. When the whole concept of ‘being on the edge’ in the life of the church comes into focus, it can be a place where the divine often makes him or herself visible. Think of the work of the prophet John the Baptist heralding the Messiah or Archbishop Desmond Tutu for instance speaking out against apartheid – both people on the leading edge. In a way, that is a little of what we’re about in our faith on this Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit pushes and extends boundaries to create a fire that has never gone out in over 2000 years of the church’s existence.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that all barriers should be down and we should let it all hang out, so to speak, before the Holy Spirit can work. However, there is a grain of truth in here about the vital nature of boundaries, and how they shouldn’t be too firm. Let me offer you 3 ways where this paradox of ‘breaking down barriers’ yet ‘establishing of boundaries’ works. Let’s go with the personal first. Imagine you go home after this service and your next-door neighbours are sitting in your back garden on this Bank Holiday Sunday. What would you say to them? What would happen if, next day, you arrive home to find them sitting in the kitchen, eating food from your fridge and watching your television. What would you do? I know what I would do and it wouldn’t be polite.
Everyone needs boundaries. No-one likes to be squashed, with other people hemming you in on all sides! Most people, too, have a place that they call ‘home’. Somewhere they can go to and close the door behind them. They feel safe there. No one is allowed in unless they have 3 permission. No one can take things unless they ask. If you want to be alone then you can be. If you want friends, then you can invite them in, but it’s your choice when and if you drop the barriers. And frankly, that’s not really possible if you haven’t built a clear picture of your own identity. But when you do drop the barriers, then really deep friendships can begin.
Now secondly let me turn to this often rigid boundary or barrier between old and new – for example between Ripon College, Cuddesdon, the Anglican theological college with original buildings designed Street in 1853 and Harriet Monsell House, a striking contemporary new building contiguous with it. It says to us ‘We are listening to the world and its needs.’
And then thirdly for example between the ancient Latin words of a Palestrina mass put alongside the worship song ‘Spirit of the Living God’. It has to be true – the leading edge between traditional and contemporary is 4 sometimes where life can be found in abundance. It is where Heaven can be discovered. I don’t know about you, but I find there is something quite moving in what musicians call ‘macaronic’ – the co-existence of two different texts in one piece of music – more often than not a Latin phrase alongside an English phrase e.g. “In dulci jubilo Your praises hereby show, He our hearts sweet treasure lies in praesepio, Is come to do God’s pleasure Matris in gremio Alpha es et O. Alpha es et O.”
In a mysterious sort of way, the boundary between Christians past and Christians present becomes very thin. And so to us all here, who have listened to the words of the ancient scriptures in a modern translation and come to this Eucharist where the past is made real in the present at the breaking of the bread; to us, who perceive that great cloud of witnesses surrounding all we do in these holy mysteries on this day 24th May 2015; all of us here – people of the 21st century – young and old, artists & musicians, financiers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, those not in paid employment, all of us worshipping with angels and archangels the alpha and the omega of our existence – secure in who we are, secure in our identity as God’s own very much loved children – the boundaries soft, fluid and flexible between past and present, time and eternity, rich and poor, sinner and saint. This is how it should be, I feel sure – no great barriers between us.
“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”- let barriers come down and the mission begin.