9th May, 2010

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

by Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

Lections

Acts of the Holy Apostles 16:9-15

Revelation of St. John the Divine 21:10, 22–22:5

The Gospel According to St. John 14:23-29

In ancient Israel the heart of the nation was Jerusalem and the heart of that city was the great temple itself- and in the midst of the temple was the throne, the kapporeth, the mercy-seat, hidden away behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies, that empty space above the Ark between the very tips of the four outstretched wings of the golden cherubim. It is the most potent symbol of Israel’s repudiation of graven images and idols- that great silent space, that articulate absence between those two angelic beings. Sacred space. A holy place.

In our own personal vocations, in our walks of life, our attempts at discipleship, the only possibility of knowing God as God is to face up to silence and, at least sometimes, to realize that it is through articulate absence, the mercy-seat, that God is only to be known. In the City of the New Jerusalem there is no temple, because its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb in the midst of it and we will walk in that City by the light of the Lamb. Our walk now, here in this world, however is going to be somewhat more precarious and less definite. Each of us are called, and we struggle to understand what the shape of that calling and vocation is.

One of the issues with discerning one’s call- in whichever direction God calls- is that we have a rather grand idea of what vocation, calling can be. We like to imagine, sometimes, that God has, of course, reserved the most important and majestic role for us. There’s a star on the dressing room door, we like to think that when that “ratatat” comes on the dressing room door, it’s going to be the archangel Gabriel calling, “Mr Smith, Miss Jones, they’re waiting for you on set, you’ll be on in two minutes.” Lights, music, action. It can be something of a shock and a let-down then, when we get there and realize that actually all we’ll be doing is helping out, and if we’re lucky, get into the shot as an extra, at the very most, third munchkin from the left. You know, it’s very strange, but the studio were on the telephone the other day, but it wasn’t me that they were interested in, what wanted was to hire that old car parked in the drive way: life can be very much like Sunset Boulevard at best. Most of us can’t even claim to be tired old has-beens because we were never famous in the first place- so how on earth can we ever be ‘has-beens?’

The word “disciple” is, unsurprisingly, from exactly the same root as discipline and to learn. The English language slightly misses this, in Welsh the word for disciple is exactly the same word as pupil, learner, one who is prepared to undergo the necessary discipline of working at discovering what vocation, discipleship is. Each of us has gifts, abilities, talents and areas of expertise: they are as many and varied as there are people sitting here this morning. No single work or commitment in this place is of any more importance to God than any other- each of us are of absolute equal integrity, value and beauty in God’s eyes. We sometimes rather forget this- we sometimes, just like the first disciples, the Apostles, get it all terribly wrong and muddle-headed. Somehow we imagine those nearer the front are also somehow nearer to God and more holy, more important. John is a rather salutary illustration in a little parable here- just the same as any of the musicians. For every five minutes of singing, or playing there are countless hours of rehearsal, preparation, hard work, discipline, page turning, notation and repetition; days, not hours go into a good rendition: there is inspiration, but you cannot, simply cannot rely on mere inspiration to get you through a concert, a Mass, a recital, a lesson, a shift, a semester; sooner or later you will have to knuckle under and work jolly hard and get your preparation done. Physician, brain surgeon, cardiologist, ER doctor, school teacher, talk-show host, news reader, opera singer, train driver, long distance truck driver, parent, make-up artist, photographer, shift-worker, geography professor, librarian: we cannot do justice to any of these unless we have put in the hard graft. Even what may appear to be the most straightforward element; the linens on Sunday morning- they all have to be prepped, lovingly, carefully and considerately. Take the illuminated manuscripts in the Lady Chapel; each tiny filigree, each tiny, miniscule geometrical design has been weighed, thought through, meditated on, positioned, re-positioned, committed to paper. Even polishing a pew, balancing a spread-sheet, folding an insert, each has its own particularity, beauty, balance, poise and place in vocation.

A man that looks on glasse,

On it may stay his eye;

Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,

And then the heav’n espie.

All may of thee partake:

Nothing can be so mean,

Which with his tincture (for thy sake)

Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause

Makes drudgerie divine:

Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,

Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone

That turneth all to gold:

For that which God doth touch and own

Cannot for lesse be told.

O GOD who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom;  Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies that we, surely trusting in thy defence may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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