The following homilies were preached as a set of four on Sunday 15 February, in order to “narrate” the Sunday Eucharist, as a teaching opportunity before the beginning of Lent.
Homily 1 – before the Processional Hymn
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father, father! The chariots of Israel, and its horsemen! So we shall hear Elisha cry in our first reading this morning, as he watches his predecessor taken up into heaven on the chariot of fire, drawn by flaming horses, a vision of the glory and power of God which gives him the strength and the inspiration to take up Elijah’s mantle as the prophet of Israel.
On this, the Sunday before Lent, we are offered in our readings visions of the reality of the created order. Visions of what is all around us, were we but able to see it. We are asked to consider that what we can see is not the entire picture, we are asked to imagine, and perhaps to dare to believe, that we are surrounded by wondrous things – angels, saints and chariots of fire.
This morning in this Eucharist we will reflect on seeing clearly, seeing properly and seeing prophetically. Having the vision to see the unseeable, to believe that though we may feel ourselves to be paddling in the shallow waters of faith, there is depth and glory and richness all around us.
And we are going to do that partly by thinking again about what we are doing when we come to the Eucharist, and specifically to the Sunday Eucharist here in the Cathedral. Why is the service shaped the way it is? Why do we do the things we do? What is this theatre, this liturgical action trying to remind us of?
And we begin with the entrance. It would be entirely possible of course, for the clergy and the choir to simply shuffle in wearing their normal clothes, a few minutes before the service begins, and there are noble traditions within the Church of England where that happens. But here, in a moment, a great procession will enter. Why?
Well because a procession, in Christian tradition, has ever been the reminder to the entire ecclesia, the entire community gathered, that we are a journeying people. And on a Sunday morning the procession, carefully ordered, reminds us that we approach the throne of God together. In a sense you need to imagine yourself in this procession, moving towards the altar, towards the place of gathering. This procession represents us all, as singers, servers, lay people and clergy move purposefully towards God. Of course it is representative, of course it is metaphorical. In a sense, as I have said, it is theatre. And quite deliberately, because it is trying to describe the indescribable. We approach God. And we carry things with us. The Cross – the most precious symbol we have, so it leads us. Light – candles, reminding us, even in an age of electric light when the candles are, practically, entirely redundant, of the flickering, fragile, light of Christ. The book of the Gospels borne this morning by our Dean. The record of the words of the Man who transforms the world, and so carried high, revered, not worshipped – for that would be idolatry, but reverenced, just like an altar, for that which it represents. Our Saviour, and his presence here today.
So we gather, we greet each other and as we reconstitute the assembly, Sunday by Sunday, we confess our sins first, making ourselves ready to receive, once again, the Word of God.