The Assumption – 2016
May the words spoken be to the greater glory of God and advance of the Gospel. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Well, we are back! We’ve had a wonderful time away and very grateful for it.
I am of course, particularly grateful to Andy who has kept the regular services ticking along with the not insignificant task of organising clergy and numerous other matters, including pastoral visiting and taking Communion to the sick. I hasn’t been an easy time with all that is going on and I know Andy appreciates greatly the mutual support you have given him during this time. And his work doesn’t stop now…lots yet to do going forward!
My thanks also to faithful Ken for his background and foreground work, liturgical and otherwise, without which several things other than the Service Sheet production would not happen. Jenny and the organists provide the glue for our style of worship and as always, beautiful music has been provided uninterrupted. Thank you! The associated and visiting clergy, Sanctuary Servers, Wardens, Vestry, John with precinct management and all who have worked over the past three months to keep the ship afloat...thank you so much.
Now to today…eve of the Assumption of Our Lady. What the Orthodox Church refers to as her Dormition…her falling asleep and resurrection to heaven. As Anglicans, we share in the Western Catholic tradition that on her death, Mary was assumed…taken up into Heaven. For that and for her whole life being and witness to the glory of God, we give thanks and celebrate today.
I read once that today is a principal feast for the Roman Catholic and some Anglican Churches. Well, we are one of those Anglican churches…perhaps only one of a small minority in our Communion these days…but authentically so, nonetheless. The Anglo-Catholic tradition, which we celebrate and perpetuate here at Saint Alban’s, maintains this feast for the entirely appropriate reason that we take every opportunity to recognise, show gratitude for and honour the life witness and being of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Her story is an amazing one of revelation, devotion, dedication and continuing inspiration for us all. I lost count of how many churches we visited during our travels that were dedicated to Saint Mary and how many Marion Shrines and other references to Mariology we encountered. No surprise of course, because she is so intrinsically a part of the Jesus Story and the revelation of God in the world.
The accounts of Mary’s death and ascension vary but regardless, it is clear that from the earliest times she was loved and revered as the Theotikos, the God bearer, the Mother of Jesus. Whatever else happened at her death, Mary was lifted up in prayer as being the saint above all saints. In this, we can give thanks for all those things we see and also those we do not see and yet believe to be true, because they form a fabric for our Faith that enables us to better know God. By example of this celebration today, we acknowledge and rejoice in the wholeness of our faith tradition…to be authentic in it, we don’t just get to pick and choose the bits we like.
Another example of how we perpetuate our faith tradition here in Balmoral relates to the use of a Monstrance for Benediction. We place a consecrated Host in the Monstrance and then using it to make the Sign of the Cross, we receive God’s Blessing through Christ present in that consecrated element.
Father Mark preached on The Transfiguration last week so that will be a fresh memory. There is however, something relating to The Transfiguration I want to mention today. It relates to the service of Benediction we most often have following an Evensong and particularly I am going to refer to the Monstrance we use in that service.
To help with my words, we are going to put the Monstrance on the Altar during the rest of the sermon. There is no consecrated Host in it for now but its placement on the Altar is what I’m going to refer to…….
When Kathy and I were visiting the many churches we did…and there were lots of them for services and otherwise…the Roman Catholic and some Anglo-Catholic churches we went into often had a Monstrance with Host inserted, placed upon the Altar. This was at times when no service is being held. This isn’t all together a new practice but it seems to have gained wider popularity in recent times. The most glorious example of this we saw, is in the Basilica Sacré Coeur in Paris, where the Monstrance sits high above the Tabernacle behind the High Altar. In other churches it was placed in the centre of the Altar.
In this way, the Blesséd Sacrament is not only put away in a Tabernacle or Aumbry to pray before, or for use when communicating the sick, or having Extended Communion…it is right there in the Monstrance at the centre of the Altar at all times when no service is being held and visitors are in-and-out of the church buildings. It’s there day-and-night too, even when the church building is closed.
The Sacrament is there for the faithful to venerate, intercede before and be with as the Real Presence of Christ…or for visitors and tourists to gaze upon…and even take photos of simply for the beautiful object it is…even if some don’t appreciate it for the ‘faith meaning’ it holds. And that’s all good. It’s the church at work in the world.
Whether known or not, for all who gaze at the Monstrance, they are touched by the presence of God through Christ. It seemed to us to be a wonderful illustration of the account of the transfigured Jesus who radiated his being and went down from the mountain to bring light, life and purpose to the world in his fully human and yet fully divine self.
It occurred to us that particularly at this time, along with all else being done to promote good in the world, this is a very meaningful and purposeful way for the Church to demonstrate our Faith of hope, based on the principles and promises of Christ. Especially so at this time of the terror and evil evidenced daily by chaotic violence and a world blighted by misery of various and numerous kinds for individuals, families, groups and communities across the planet.
As Christians we have many ways to do this by our living…but here is an artefact of our faith tradition that following the example of Jesus, shows forth, exposes and declares the Real Presence of Christ and the benediction he offers.
See how the Monstrance appears on the Altar…most churches had a spot-light trained on it, reflecting its gold and jewels with the radians reaching out across the building and out into the world. Just a wonderful sight! The light of Christ penetrating timelessly and endlessly into the space around it and beyond.
The words of Simeon and Anna rang in our ears as they saw in the person of the young Jesus, that he was to be the Christ who lights up the world and dispels the darkness for all people and for all generations.
I’m going to consecrate a Host this morning, which we will put into our Monstrance and at the end of mass we will place it on the Altar where it will remain between services. Whether or not the church is occupied, the Real Presence of Christ will shine out from that place of sacrifice and salvation, penetrating the darkness, dispelling evil and being an outward and visible sign of our faith. It’s one way for us to be in solidarity with our Christian family who in some parts of the world are experiencing relentless hate and the prosecution of evil…and also with those of Islamic, Jewish and other faiths who truly wish for peace and harmony in our world.
Being recently in European cities where military vehicles and groups of heavily armed soldiers and police are on the streets, in the trains and shops…practically everywhere…it feels like being under siege. And it is…terror now looms large in the background of everyday life.
People we experienced are being positive and getting on with their lives as they should but conversations very often drift to the question of “what, where and who will be next?” That in itself, is terror in action.
We have to believe though, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said following the terrible and disgusting murder of Father Hamel in France, “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, but inevitably is defeated through Jesus Christ.”
The revelation of God in the world through the being of Jesus began with the announcement to Mary that she would bear the Messiah. We celebrate her life today and give thanks for the life we have in Christ who is the light for our lives and for all that is good in the world. May the witness of Mary be our guide to faith and may the presence of Christ crucified and risen be our hope for the world where his light shines brightly in the gloom and despair of its darkest corners.
May His presence in the Blesséd Sacrament fill us with that hope and light of life eternal…and let us now in a moment of silence, allow that light of hope to shine for all people… us here in this parish, in this community, our nation and throughout our world.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN