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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) (RoseSunday/Mothering Sunday)
22 March 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the
true bread which giveth life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live
in us, and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

2 Chronicles 36:14-23
Psalm 122
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 6:4-15

Perhaps my favourite piece of English choral music is C. H. H. Parry’s setting of Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said unto me.” It was written in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII and edited by Parry into the version we now know for the coronation of George V in 1911. I first sang it when I was a chorister at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut on a non-royal occasion and, therefore, without the interpolated “Vivats,” which are only appropriate for the entrance of the monarch.

It truly captured my auditory imagination. I felt that it showed forth the glory of God, the majesty of God. I felt that it captured the sense of excitement worshippers feel as they approach the altar and, truly expressed the soaring beauty of worship. And while I have come to like other modern English composers better than Parry, it still exerts a great power over my imagination. Indeed, as inspiration for writing this sermon, I spent some time listening to and watching video clips of it being sung both by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and at St Paul’s Cathedral on the occasion of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Parry’s version was designed to be an introit, the music for an entrance rite, and in this case the entrance of a British monarch on the occasion of his coronation. As the ministers and the one who would take the throne approached the altar this psalm of pilgrimage is sung. Today on this Fourth Sunday in Lent, we sing this same text as part of our introit, Laetare Jerusalem and we heard these words as the smoke and incense rose over that altar. Indeed, the psalm is laced throughout this morning’s liturgy.

While we will not hear Parry’s English anthem today (and perhaps this is subliminally why I chose Parry’s setting of Psalm 148 and 150 as our hymn at the procession(1)), we do hear these words, we do get the force of the psalmist’s joyful longing to make his pilgrimage to the City of God, to the altar of God, to the Temple of God.

1. I was glad when they said unto to me, * We will go into the house of the Lord.
2. Our feet are standing within thy gates, * O Jerusalem.

We feel the expectation and longing as we are at the point of entering the Holy City:

3 Jerusalem is built as a city * that is at unity with itself;
4 For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, * to testify unto Israel to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.
5 For there is the seat of judgement, * even the seat of the house of David.

Our pilgrimage to the Holy City leads us to the Temple, that place at the heart of the City that has been set apart and blessed, to give thanks to God, the God who made us, who loves us, and who calls us to him. And this is our prayer when we arrive:

6 O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * they shall prosper that love thee.
7 Peace be within thy walls * and plenteousness within thy palaces.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I will wish thee prosperity.
9 Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, * I will seek to do thee good.

It is a prayer for peace in the Holy City, peace in the City of God. It is a prayer for those who love God. It is a prayer for prosperity. And it is a prayer that ends with a commitment to ministry: “Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good.” Because of the majesty of the temple and because of the worship that takes place there, we the pilgrims who have journeyed there from all the corners of the earth, now feel called to action, called to “do thee good.” Yes, it is a call to more and deeper worship, but, as Matthew’s Gospel teaches us, it is also a call to love our neighbour for in loving our neighbours, we are doing good to God.

As we read in John’s gospel, and as we heard last week, this is the same Temple to which Jesus journeyed at the time of Passover early on in his ministry. Jesus would have shared the expectations and hopes of all the pilgrims to Jerusalem. Ringing in his well educated ears would have been the words of today’s psalm, “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go to the House of the Lord.” When he arrived, however, he found a sight that he did not expect. He found the money changers and merchants and, consumed by “Zeal for thy house,” he drove them from the Temple. For Jesus, the Temple was “his father’s house.” It was the place where incense rose from the altar, from the “throne of judgement,” from “the seat of David” up in praise and honour to God. And in John’s, gospel it is the place where Jesus’ ministry really begins.

Here in our temple, our house of prayer in the midst of the City and to which we make our pilgrimage, we not only give our thanks to God, offer our songs of praise, offer the sweet smell of incense, but we are also nourished with the bread of life before we embark upon our ministry. Here we are nourished by Jesus himself, the temple of whose body God will raise-up after three days. From the altar of this temple, we are nourished with the same bread that Jesus took, blessed, and distributed to the five thousand we heard about in today’s Gospel. This is the supply of bread that is never depleted. This is the meal that makes us one with God and one with each other. And all because this is the bread that Jesus identifies with himself: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). This, my freinds, is the “prosperity” for which the psalmist prayed, for which we pray when we sing this psalm. This “propserity” is nothing less than life, real life lived in relationship with God in Christ.

Today in the misdt of Lent, like the psalmist, we come to the temple as pilgrims seeking God’s presence in the world, seeking God’s presence in the midst of the City, seeking life. We come to the temple as pilgrims looking to discern where God is calling us. We come to the temple and are fed with the bread of life. We come to this temple and are sent back into the world ready to engage in our work, ready to be God’s ministers, ready to be Christ’s Body at work in the world:

6 O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * they shall prosper that love thee.
7 Peace be within thy walls * and plenteousness within thy palaces.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I will wish thee prosperity.
9 Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, * I will seek to do thee good.

Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Joseph, 19 March 2009

1) The Hymnal 1982, 432

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume