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75th Anniversary of the Re-Opening of St Margaret's

 

Luke 13:17  

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.  

 

A young monk arrives in a monastery where he is put to work as a copyist.  After a few days, he notices that the monks making copies of the scriptures are all working from copies -- not the original.  This alarms the young monk because he thinks of how easy it would be for mistakes to be repeated.  And so he goes to the Abbott and expresses his concerns.

 

"Yes, brother," replies the Abbott, "you have a valid point.  But this is the way we've always done it.  Still, I better check to make sure there are no errors."

 

So off he goes to the cellar where he spends the entire night carefully consulting the original scriptures.  In the morning, all of the brothers go down to the cellar and find the Abbott crying.

 

"What's the matter?" they ask.  Between the loudest of sobs, he groans: "All those years – a lifetime of abstinence - when all the time the word is celebrate!"

 

The word is Celebrate

 

What you are doing this weekend?  Today’s services; the flowers; and the open church.  What are you celebrating?

 

The headline of course is 75 years since the re-opening of the church; after 20 years of closure 1917-1937.

 

Years I would love to know more about.  The Revd CT Mundy, so we are told, ‘estranging the parishioners’; possibly over high church practices, but whatever they didn’t come, and the church fell into disrepair.  Disrepair so serious that in 1930 the Council for the care of Churches were concerned it might become ‘a wreck beyond saving’.  The walls were buttressed; the lead off; a tree growing where the altar is!

 

At the time, the parish was united with Sundon and they too were estranged!  Their church closed for 25 years with services in the vicarage!

 

And then restoration!  Professor Richardson overseeing it; Diocesan Funds helping to fund it; a reopening by Bishop Furse.  In part as a memorial in part to Archdeacon Arthur Parnell, a former Archdeacon of Bedford with a passion for restoring church buildings.

 

The word is Celebrate.

 

This is celebration of that restoration and re-opening; placing this church building back at the heart of this community.  A building that was now loved and cared for; a care continued over the years; not least with your recent restoration of the tower.

 

The word is Celebrate.  But not just of a building but of a community of faith; of witness and service.  For however special, however splendid or bizarre the history, buildings are always servants of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.

 

So what are you celebrating today?

 

We are helped by our readings.  God offers us two points of focus, two images, both set for Trinity 13 but helpful on this day of celebration.

 

Firstly, from the Book of Hebrews, a passage that builds a contrast; the contrast of two mountains.  The first: Mount Sinai, which Moses ascends for the Law; the commandments.  The second: Mount Zion with its echoes of the building of Temple by Solomon in Jerusalem.  However, the focus here is the New Jerusalem, the City of God, where God is present.

 

A fairly stark contrast is depicted.  Mount Sinai is terrifying, a blazing fire, a place of darkness and gloom, all drawn from Exodus 19.  There is a roaring voice that is frightening in the extreme.  It is a place of awesome holiness that normally no person or animal can approach.

 

In contrast, the New Jerusalem, this time drawing on Revelation, has God at its heart, the festal praise of angels.  It is a place that is welcoming, cleansing and healing.  It is a place to which you are called to come, for there is God the judge of all and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.  Come to Mount Zion for there you enter the awesome presence of God!  God who, loves you, calls you, welcomes you.

 

There are deep themes here, which could take much longer to explore fully, but for today the passage stands as a reminder; a reminder that our calling as a church is to be like Mount Zion; a place and a community of the living presence of God to which all are invited; all are welcome.  A place where seeker and searcher may find honest and open encounter with Christ; an accessible place of prayer.

 

That’s important today in an age where increasing people are totally unfamiliar with the church; where many perceive the church as a strange, frightening, distant, unknown; a place of metaphorical darkness and gloom where they believe they will be unwelcome and unworthy.

 

It’s important that in all we do the church is open, welcoming, and above all else holy; a place where God is known and worshipped; a place of reverence and awe!

 

The word is Celebrate – celebrating the living presence of God.

 

There is a second image; this time from Luke.  It is a woman bent double; unable to stand up straight; disabled by her condition; a condition that in the telling of this event stands for more than just individual handicap (not helpful to read this as theological reflection on disability) but rather represents in the first instance the people of Israel crippled in their standing before God.

 

But more than that!  It is an image that represents each and every person who because of the weight of sin and guilt; or the reality of oppression and violence; or the subjugation of need or want; can’t stand tall as the person they are meant to be.

 

And then in an encounter with the love, the healing of Jesus, the crippled, bent over woman stands tall.  She praises God.  She is representative of a Gospel that sets people free.

 

If you look closely at the Cope I am wearing you will see on the back the links of chains that are opening; symbols for me of that central message of the Gospel that the resurrection life of Jesus sets people free.

 

The Gospel that sets people free!  Free to live with confidence and purpose; free to serve others with generosity and joy; free to live transformed lives in the midst of all that ensnares.

 

The Gospel that enables people to stand tall; that is not hidebound by rule or regulation, for that is what upset the leader of the Synagogue so much.  The Gospel that is rooted in divine love that cannot but respond; even on the Sabbath!

 

For we live in a world where many are unable to stand up straight.  This weekend we are being reminded of Martin Luther King’s great ‘I have a dream’ speech fifty years ago; a speech that was rooted in the Gospel that sets people free; free to live as equals in a fair and just world.  Or again it is the same Gospel of ‘setting free’ that inspires our Archbishop’s concern about pay day loans and the huge interest charges the poor have to pay; the reality that here and elsewhere you pay for the privilege of being poor.

 

In raising the issue; challenging the assumptions; championing alternatives such as Credit Unions he is seeking the Gospel way where the bent over stand tall.

 

The word is Celebrate.  A celebration of a Gospel that changes things; that sets people free; in which all can stand tall!

 

The word is Celebrate.  So what are you celebrating?  75 years since this church building was restored.  Yes!  But not just that!  You are celebrating a church called to be a place of the living God to which all are called and all are welcome; a church called to be a place where God’s love is lived; in which the bent over stand tall!

 

The word is Celebrate!

+Richard Bedford

 

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