The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
9 November 2008
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We have had good fun these past few weeks at Saint Ignatius. Three weeks ago
we celebrated our Patronal Feast with a splendid procession and Mass. Last Sunday we
had another marvellous solemn procession, this time to the Font, as we hymned “For
all the saints,” and then sung Mass in honour of All Saints. The next evening, following
some of the oldest customs of the Catholic Church in the West we sung a “simple”
requiem to the strains of the Choir and Orchestra of Saint Ignatius offering Fauré’s
setting. Moving indeed was the moment at the end when we heard In paradisum sung
while the incense rose in clouds around the ministers and enveloped the congregation.
Indeed, we have been enfolded by the communion of saints and have been given a real sense that we, the church militant here on our earthly pilgrimage, are bound inexorably with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us into the one communion and fellowship singing ceaseless praise to God. “Holy, Holy, Holy” the choirs of angels and archangels have sung with us as we have honoured and been embraced by both the heroes of our faith and our own beloved family and friends we no longer see, but who are held forever in God’s company. To follow the image upon which I focussed last week, we too have been drawn around the throne of the Lamb
and, I hope, come to both understand and feel that God wishes nothing for us other
than love and peace.
Today, however, we begin another phase of our pilgrimage through the church
year. This Sunday, and the two Sundays following, we are plunged into the world of
the parousia, the return of the Son of Man and the establishment of God’s kingdom. In
Advent we will also discover these themes, but in the context of that season, the
watching and waiting is equally about our preparations for a future return as they are
for the annual celebration of the Incarnation itself, the moment in history when God
united himself fully with his creation, taking on human flesh and entering into a body
that would know the depths of pain and the heights of love. In these few weeks leading
up to the feast of Christ the King at the end of this long season after Pentecost, we have
no leaven at the end, no baby in the manger surrounded by lovely animals and an
adoring mother. Here we have the stark vision of God who, knowing us as intimately
as he does, is working to reconcile all things unto himself and establish his Kingdom.
We are presented with the vision that God is working hard and in his own time to bring about the reign of love and hope and peace that is embodied in the image of the Lamb. We are presented with the understanding that we can not make this happen ourselves, but that we are called to be watchful for signs of God’s presence, God’s reign, God’s love breaking through into our lives.
We are called to train ourselves to look for those little incarnations that happen
every day as signs and foretastes of that which is to come, not perhaps in our lifetime
or that of our children or of our children’s children, but that will come. We are called
to watch and wait and be prepared. We are called to live lives that expect to see God in
Christ present with us again. Indeed we live such lives, faithful to God’s vision of love,
and expecting his presence with us always.
Those of you who follow my comings and goings on Facebook will already know
that I have been very taken with something my friend and mentor, the Rev’d Canon
Edward W. Rodman, recently wrote in Episcopal Life as a response to the coming
election. He reminds us all that “as Christians we are called to be prisoners of hope,
constantly seeking the will of God for ourselves and our nation while striving to respect
the dignity of every human person as we have promised in our baptismal covenant. Thus no matter what happens in the short term, the struggle will continue and our
goal should not be to win or prevail, but to be faithful to this vision of the reign of
God.” Canon Rodman reminds us that the Kingdom of God is something we can
honour here and now as something that we can taste and see, but not yet completed. He reminds us that although our world is full of injustice and poverty, full of racism
and hatred, full of violence and, dare I say it, sin, God is still faithful to us, faithful to his own vision for us, that we may be united with him in Love. This reality, the reality of God’s faith in his own project, his faith in us, gives us the power to be those watchful servants, those wise maidens who have enough lamp oil to wait all night for the bridegroom to come back from negotiating the marriage contract and who will be prepared for the big party that will follow.
Today’s Gospel is a story, taken from real life, taken from what might actually
have happened on the evening of a great marriage. The original parable of Jesus
spoke of the coming of God’s Kingdom, while its redaction by Matthew more clearly
focussed upon what he believed was the immanent return of the Christ, the Son of
Man. Matthew believed that this event would come any day and he drew a contrast
between those who knew and followed Jesus and the emerging Rabbinic Jewish culture
that concerned itself less with these apocalyptic expectations. The coming of the Son of
Man did not happen so soon and the church had to adapt to the idea of a longer wait.
Nevertheless the basic message of this parable and of the stories we shall hear in the
coming weeks still obtains: that “you must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an
hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:43).
We wait both for the “big one,” and I think, more importantly for our daily lives, for our lives as Christians on our earthly pilgramage, for the living out of our
baptismal ministry, we watch and wait for those little incarnations that are happening
all around us every day. They happen in law firms and schools, in hospitals and
prisons, on the number one train and on the M86, in coffee shops and in five star restaurants, on the street in the middle of the night and in warm apartments. These are the in breakings of love, those moments when we see and feel and know, whether
we are thinkers or feelers, that God in Christ has come near us and touched us with
love, touched someone with love, enfolded someone with love.
“Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Keep your eyes and ears open, and just as importantly keep your hearts and minds open. The bridegroom is coming, he has come already, and will come again. When we go out to greet him with lamps full of oil, hearts full of love, minds full of knowledge, we are then able to celebrate his presence, his rule, his Kingdom and really be a part of God’s vision, God’s dream.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Willibrord, Archbishop and Missionary, 7 November 2008
©2008 Andrew Charles Blume