Sermon given at Ripon Cathedral by Revd Chris Lawton, Sunday 26/4/2015
Exodus 16.4-15; Revelation 2.12-17
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and Our Redeemer. Amen.
It’s a joy and a privilege to be here with you this evening, and although used to the workings of a cathedral, (having served at Gloucester) it is the first time I have spoken in this one. Having risen to speak this evening from the stall of St. Bede, and wearing my Durham Hood for the first time in a service, it is rather fitting that we should have a reading that was sent to a church set in a city of great learning. Pergamum was famed not only as the home of parchment production also had the second largest library of the ancient world with something like 200, 000 volumes! It was also home to a cult of medical learning and the seat of regional government,
I wonder how living and being surrounded by such learning and power affected the church there. Is this why John is refers to this as Satan’s throne? This passage like much of John’s revelation is filled with imagery that is somewhat difficult to grasp. So if I may I would like to focus on just two, the ‘White Stones’ and the ‘Hidden Manna?’
Much ink has been spilt over the meaning of the ‘White Stones’, and even more over the ‘New Name’ they hold. With little if any consensus I offer one option that links well when we consider the Stones and the Manna together. In the Roman ‘client system’ households would feed their dependents, this in the case of a large house could be an enormous number of people. To identify who was entitled to food a stone or tile baring the name or symbol of the house would be given and, on production, food would be received. If you like, these stones become a mark of belonging.
Likewise several options are available as to the meaning of the ‘Hidden Manna.’ The one I find most helpful draws on the legend that some of the precious manna that we heard about in our first reading was placed into a golden urn and then placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. Unlike the rest of the manna, this was not subject to corruption but remained as memorial of God’s provision. At the destruction of the temple, the prophet Jeremiah, or an angel depending on the teller, hid this jar in a secret cave. Legends developed around this story and for many first century Jews, it became a messianic symbol that the Christ would give his followers the ‘Hidden Manna.’ Thus if we are to see Christ in his giving of himself as our spiritual food, he then becomes the promised ‘Hidden Manner.’
It’s not a large jump to see those who conquer as the ones who refrain from eating the food sacrificed to idols and trust in the Eucharist. Thus both enjoying the Hidden Manna and possessing the White Stone, signify permission to be part of the faithful at the Lord’s table.
Manna remains as a symbol of God’s gift and provision. I believe this can be seen to us as both Christ’s self-giving within the Eucharist and as God’s outpouring of gifts and skills, the gifts of the spirit. From 1st Corinthians we learn that the spirit gives; ‘wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation.’ In Pergamum that list would have been a complete mirror of the secular gifts and skills that surrounded them.
But how does this affect us?
If we enter into the sacrificial feist with our brothers and sisters at the Eucharist, we too enjoy the promised ‘Hidden Manna’ both in food and gift. The spirits outpouring of gift as we have seen comes in many forms, some of us may have knowledge others a healing touch. However what I think is important to remember is that these gifts are not given for our own edification, but for the building up of the body. And like the manna in the desert it comes with a stern warning not to store it up but to make use of it.
So my thought today, before I return to sit unworthily in Bede’s stall; is that when we are blessed with God’s provision in our life we must use it, before it becomes corrupted, or to put it simply. God’s gifts use them or lose them! Rather appropriate as today is Vocation Sunday.