Saints Philip and James 2020, Year A—3 May 2020
Rev'd Martin Johnson
John 14:6-14, Isaiah 30:18-21Isaiah’s message to the rebellious Hebrew people, isolated and exiled from homeland and from Temple and God, is patience. Sometimes it will seems there are mixed messages…left or right. But the call is to wait, the word will not be proclaimed by megaphone but from behind, quietly encouraging. It speaks into our situation today. Some of us are bewildered by the mixed messaging which seems to be never ending, left or right. Some are immersing themselves in new projects and ways of being, they are lucky. We cannot all learn a new language or a new musical instrument, we cannot all master a new recipe or a way to keep fit. But there is something we can all do and that is wait and listen, and I don’t mean to our phones or televisions. If there is anything that we can all do at this time, it is pray. Whatever our situation, this is our first call. The great preacher, Elizabethan Bishop Lancelot Andrewes famously once said ‘set this down, then: Christianity is a meeting.’ This is what prayer is about, a meeting; prayer is reconciliation a meeting and a mending. It finds its ‘apotheosis’ here at the altar as we make Eucharist. Although we are in the midst of the great festival of Easter, our celebration today, our Patronal Festival, takes us back to a time before the events of Easter Sunday to the most important meeting of all time. Today we are reminded that when we gather together as Christians we are always in the upper room with Jesus and the twelve. Wherever you might be today, you are in the upper room, fulfilling your calling to meet and to mend, to prayer. Today we gathered to the words of the great 17th century Priest and Poet George Herbert. What we sang was his poem ‘The Call’ part of an anthology called ‘The Temple’ which was published after his death in 1633. The music was by Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of his ‘Five mystical Songs’. It is worth hearing again:
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:We here in O’Connor are blessed in that we enjoy the patronage of St Philip and we enjoy a Eucharistic tradition that lies at the very heart of our lives of faith. The two are intrinsically linked. We need perhaps to be reminded that today’s passage from John’s gospel took place in the upper room. Unlike the other gospels John’s account of the meeting of Jesus and his disciples takes place over four chapters 13-17. Much of our spirituality and our ethic is voiced by Jesus in these chapters. To appreciate the Eucharist as prayer is to read these chapters. What we’ve heard and sung in poetry and hymnody is George Herbert’s response to Jesus’ words ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ What Jesus does is place these words in the context of meeting, Eucharistic meeting. ‘Such a light as shows a feast, such a feast as mends in length.’ Jesus in the Last Supper in that upper room mends in the broadest sense. He serves, he forgives, he teaches, he prepares a way, he unites and in response to Philip’s ‘show us the Father’ reminds the disciples that to have seen these things in him is to have seen the Father. The way, the truth and the life: to understand this we need to be reminded that in Jesus we meet the goal of our journey, the means to get there and the motivation to persevere, Father, Son and Spirit. The Trinity, the meeting that lies at the heart of our gathering, the Trinity this is the meeting into which we have been called. The enduring appeal of George Herbert’s Poetry lies perhaps in its honesty about the struggles, fears and doubts of life as a Christian. It lies at the heart of the patronage of St Philip which we enjoy, and it is refreshing and reassuring to know that we are not alone in finding it difficult at times to pray and answer the call, to find God, but also to know that at length we are mended. Eucharist is about meeting and mending, we bring to it all in prayer our fears and our doubts as well as our thanks and praise. We pray the Eucharist because it is everything our prayers should be. They are the prayers of Jesus whose mission is fulfilled and our reconciliation to God accomplished in our Eucharistic experience. It is perhaps best summed up in another of Herbert’s poems perhaps his most familiar and loved it is simply called ‘Love,’ it is worth hearing again:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast;
Such a feast as mends in length;
Such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move;
Such a love as none can part;
Such a heart as joys in love.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew backAmen.
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.