Sunday, 21 November 2010

Tough assignment

We got up early enough to attend the Parish Eucharist at St John's Canton this morning. A student from St Michael's was preaching her first sermon, around the readings for the day, in honour of Christ the King. Both the Parish clergy and the lay reader in training were there to listen and encourage, which was a nice thing to do, in my opinion. The readings are substantial ones, and not that easy to work on, given the thematic imposition of the festive title as a theme.

There's a lot about kingship and kingdoms in the bible. Much of it relates poorly to the modern experience of sovereign rule, whether the democratic republican or constitutional monarchical kind. We often sing about God our King and some of the associated poetry of praise is hard to improve upon. But this occasion is a celebration of Christ the King, different in character from what is celebrated in the mystery of Ascension

It's not an ancient liturgical custom, but dates from the nineteenth century when the temporal influence of the papal states was declining, and the church needed to be reminded to look to Christ paradoxically reigning from the tree of the cross, He whose 'kingdom is not of this world', whose power is the 'powerless power that overpowers powerful power' as Bishop David Jenkins used to say.

1 Samuel 8, one of the readings for the day, offers an eloquent critique of human kingship, that needs consideration to remind us of the ambivalence that is an inherited part of any notion of royalty, but strangely, this isn't read at the service most people attend.
Ambivalence and paradox are far from easy elements to celebrate, without  withdrawal from the real world in which these must be lived with - even when thinking about Christ. The difficulty lies in making connection  between these ideas in our lives and the use or abuse of worldly power as part of our common experience.

To my mind our new preacher had an unenviable first assignment. She worked well and hard to explain the content of the readings and to point to Christ on the Cross. There were connections with life needing to be made to get the most out of this occasion - daunting for an experienced preacher taking the job seriously let alone a beginner. It was a hard place to start, tackled with gracious enthusiasm.

Preaching develops by going over the same great themes and passages of scripture over and over again for different situations. Whenever I revisit sermons once preached, I find that no matter how insightful they may be in some respects, there are awlays other respects I find embarrassing, inadequate, badly thought through, reflecting a poor state of mind at time of writing. I can never re-use anything as I find it. There's always something to edit or develop afresh.
After lunch, I walked to the Cathedral for the uplift of Choral Evensong, with Howells' Hymn to St Cecilia as an anthem. An hour of ethereal pleasure. For all my need for earthed relevance in proclaiming the Gospel, I still need my healing dose of heavenly beauty to keep me walking tall.

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