|Published on Sun, 21 Jun 2015 12:21|
Deuteronomy 30.19 – I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life!
Sermon for Festival Evensong, 21st June 2015, at St John’s, Waterloo
By Giles Goddard
Two friends go to church, to somewhere they’re not familiar with. Afterwards, they’re chatting, and one says to the other, I don’t think I got much out of that. The other replies, I wasn’t aware it was for you!
Well, I’m sure that we will all get a lot out of this Festal Evensong, and I’m really delighted to welcome you all and the Waterloo Singers to create such a special atmosphere here at St John’s. I really do think that choral evensong is one of the wonders of the C of E, and it’s a privilege to have it today.
But what’s it all about? Who is it for? Is it for us?? Some people say the congregation is too passive and should be more involved in the service. To which I reply, choral evensong is about beauty, and it’s about reflection, and it’s about meditation … It’s about creating something for God which goes beyond the everyday into a place which is utterly other, unique – where the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. It is, in a word, about worship. It’s about mystery and majesty, about reaching towards infinity and touching the hem of the garment which clothes the wonder which is God, which is love; it’s about creating a new heaven and a new earth; it’s about being submerged in the river of life, rising from the throne of God and flowing crystal clear down the city street; it’s about choosing life.
But all those words I’ve just used don’t quite catch it, do they. They raise more questions than they answer! What does all that MEAN? What IS this garment which clothes the wonder which is God; what is this river of life?
In the middle of a world which sees so much sadness and so much destruction, is it even appropriate to think of these things? Aren’t we simply being escapist, trying to pretend that 9 black Christians were not shot in Charleston last week and that Isis is not continuing to wreak havoc in failing States across the Middle East? Should we not be taking the reality, the horror of war more seriously as we come to the end of this series of Festivals reflecting on the legacy of war?
My answer to that is that in fact it makes it more urgent that we try to focus on the good and beautiful, that we try to keep the light of love burning here in the heart of this great city of London, and, at this time of remembrance of the battle of Waterloo, that we try to live out what it means to be part of the river of life.
This evensong comes at the end of an extraordinary festival, when we have created something wonderful, together. I’m sure each of you has your highlights – the Film Score competition with its 100 entries, the debate which changed many people’s minds about Napoleon, the tremendous quiz night when my team didn’t win, boo; the exhibition in the crypt which looks quite stunning, the walks attended by dozens of people, the wonderful Waterloo’s Got Talent – and what talent it has – well done, Choir, Oisin, Beatrix, Mark … And, of course, the quite sublime concert on Thursday evening, with dancers and singers, giving astonishing music in an uncannily rich and evocative context – and the amazing experience of the Dance last night! ….
From Deuteronomy, one of the great verses: I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life!
The glory of God is a human fully alive, says Irenaeus in that well-known quote. And I think that that is what we’ve been seeing over the past week – human beings fully alive. Choosing life, in all its richness. That’s why this festival is so special – because of the fullness and richness of its diversity. All the things we did. The children playing Beethoven’s 5th. Maureen Mills as the Duchess of Richmond….
But the second half of the quote is less well known – “and the life of humanity consists in beholding God.”
Gloria Dei est vivens homo. Vita hominis visio Dei.
The two, to Irenaeus, are inextricably linked; our life, if it is to be as full as God conceives it, needs to be caught up in the vision of God which God has for us.
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life!
And so everything connects. The craziness of Waterloo’s got talent. The concentrated intellectual endeavour of the quiz. The questions raised by the artworks. The sublimity of the dancers. The presence of the sculpture Music Man, his form made of guns converted into ploughshares – all of it is caught up in our subconsciouses, and, if we are willing to allow it, combined with our sense of God, of the numinous, of love; everything connects, everything intersects in this peculiar corner of London which we call Waterloo, and finds its summation in this Choral Evensong.
My friends, it is nothing less than our duty as Christians, as Muslims, as believers or non-believers, to seek to be fully alive. To choose life, in all its messy complexity and extraordinary delight. That’s why we’re here; that’s what the Festival’s about; that’s what worship is about.
So I give thanks, for all that has been, and all that will be. Thanks for the Committee which organised it all,and for Chris’s wonderful, kind and careful chairing over the past three years. Thanks for all those who have worked so hard to make it happen – Sheila, Elaine, Eileen, Ken and everyone else who has volunteered; and thanks for those who have brought their creative skills, their imagination and their love in any way to this Festival, especially to Mark the dramaturge and creator of last night’s party. And thanks to those who will take it forward – to Jeff, who becomes chair for next year, and to all of us bringing our ideas and visions to its future incarnation.
On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
We have certainly tasted twelve kinds of fruit this week; so let us pray that they are truly for the healing of the nations.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life!