An increasing number of people around the Benefice are joining Zoom church on a Sunday morning AND phoning in from landlines.
Christopher’s Sermon for Sunday 14 June may be read below, and if you’d like to see and hear the service ‘as live’ just click on the Youtube link below. Please note a technical hitch that muted Simon’s microphone while the hymn was played means there’s a silent period, but hang in there: the hymn does come later!
SERMON – Rublev’s Icon
Icons from the Orthodox Tradition do invite us in. Like the computer icon, they take us into a different world, into the more intimate company of Almighty God. This 14th century icon illustrates our reading today when 3 figures visit Abraham and announce the surprising birth of a baby to his wife, Sarah, aged 90. You will know that it was ‘written’ by a Russian monk, Andrei Rublev and is called ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’. It moves the conversation closer to the nature of God. Rublev has Christianised the Genesis story by identifying Abraham’s 3 visitors as the 3 persons of God. Rowan Williams calls it, “God’s Selfie!”
Rublev depicts the 3 visitors as angels: they have wings. Blue is the colour which connects all three, suggesting a heavenly home. The figure on the right is the Holy Spirit, his blue garment covered in green, the colour of life, for we talk in The Creed about The Holy Spirit, the giver of Life. The angel in the middle represents The Son with a dark red covering suggesting the colour of earth, the colour of blood, reminding us of the incarnation and crucifixion. The figure on the left is the Father, his blue cloak covered with a translucent robe symbolizing divine glory.
What then are the messages we can read from this icon about God?
Firstly, the figures sit in a circle around the communion table suggesting unity. They even look alike!
Secondly, they have regard for one another, their heads inclined to the other but with one eye also on that which is the focus of their attention, the chalice.
Thirdly, there is someone missing: Abraham! He needs to be there to receive the news about a miraculous birth. But the gap is meant for us too. We are drawn into that holy company.
I know that some of you will be quite familiar with this icon and how it works but I am taking the liberty of sharing it with you again because an icon stands at the threshold of a new world and we are on the threshold of re-opening our churches.
This pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, both great and small, temporary and permanent. It has also highlighted the value of our churches as sacred places in our communities. It’s when you lose something that you realize its value!
The Genesis story records a critical and unique moment in the Bible story – when Abraham’s offspring is predicted which leads us to Jesus. A birth is announced, names are changed, a new order begins and Abraham is taken into the intimate decisions of Yahweh. Here is a moment to record: by story and by icon.
So as we gradually re-open our churches, this icon reminds us of that threshold moment when the holy becomes tangible, as it does so often in our churches. It is there that we meet with God. That sacred space beckons us. But things will be different.
The lessons drawn from the icon remind us firstly of our unity, which no virus can destroy. We are all distinct, unique yet each has a part to play. What will be that part for you in the new reality? Zoom worship during the lockdown has flattened the church hierarchy. Others have emerged to take on leadership roles. This will be a growing feature of church life beyond the lockdown.
Secondly, Abraham’s visitors have a care for one another. They look out for the other. Whom do we need to look out for as the lockdown eases? Neighbourliness has always been a mark of village life but it has increased during lockdown. But we will each know those whom we do our best to avoid. However life is too short to continue that charade. Is it time to do something about it?
Finally, our inclusion in this mystery. It is so easy to assume some superiority in our church-going. All are invited; all are hard-wired for faith. Perhaps this is a new moment given to us to assume not that others are excluded but that others would like to be there too. Issue that invitation, however coded! The future of our churches cannot be guaranteed after this fierce pandemic. It requires the work of us all to mark the ongoing importance of that sacred space in the centre of our village communities.
We are about to enter a different world. With the angelic guests of Abraham, let us be quiet for a moment and contemplate the possibilities in front of us. Amen.