Sermon by Revd Caroline Risdon
Michaelmas, Sunday 27 September 2020
Let us pray…
Loving God we give you thanks for the gift of your word, the grace of the sacrament and the fellowship of your people. Amen.
There are two main seasons when the Church ordains Priests, Petertide at the end of June, and Michaelmas, the festival we are keeping today. Michaelmas celebrates the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel.
We don't think about or concentrate on angels very much. We tend to imagine that they look a bit like us but with wings. Hard to know because there is nothing written to describe them! What we are told in the Bible is that angels are messengers of God. Here in our Gospel reading we hear about heaven opening and the angels ascending and descending upon Jesus. Heaven is ministering to and claiming Jesus.
Angels are also part of the heavenly host, which can be translated as heavenly army. Michael is in fact particularly lauded for defeating the Devil in the war of heaven. If angels are a bit more warrior-like, it might explain why every human interaction with an angel begins with the person being told, “Do not be afraid! I come from God.”
Most important of all, angels are constantly involved in the worship of God. Perhaps this is why Michaelmas is such a special day for the Church around the world? The day when we add to our number those women and men called by God to be Priests in the Church, who will help to lead worship here on earth. And what a wonderful and meaningful occasion for us to return to the Church building and worship God together from this Holy place, accompanied by our own angelic voices!
Last week, a former member of our congregation was Ordained Priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. As is the norm these days, I was able to join the service through the medium of YouTube. It was such a joy to witness! And so moving, to hear the Bishop and congregation cheering and clapping as a new Priest was ordained into God's Church. And I was grateful for the opportunity to watch because being in touch with something this joyous and beautiful and moving took me away from my everyday. It literally raised my spirits.
I wonder if you have been feeling a bit like that too recently? When we closed the Church on the 22nd of March, we had no idea we would not be permitted to re-enter it until July, let alone that we would not be gathering for this act of communal worship until September. And it is of course a great joy to be back, filling this house of prayer with our thanks and praise once more. Alongside that joy there is also something important about bringing our tiredness and weariness to God; bringing our concerns and fears; bringing the reality of our lives into this Holy place.
Today's Gospel is in many ways about reality and recognition. When Jesus calls out to Philip, “follow me,” it seems that Philip recognises who Jesus really is. Seemingly he gets up and follows. Philip then says to Nathanael- “we have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Something about Jesus draws Philip in, compels him to abandon his reality and embrace a new one.
And when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he seems to recognise exactly who Nathanael is; describing him as one without any deceit. Nathanael is amazed that Jesus understands his character. What I find reassuring about this image is that Jesus knows who Nathanael is in the midst of the everyday. He is sitting under a fig tree minding his own business. And even though Jesus knows that Nathanael will be taken aback, and even cynical, he accepts him. Although it's more than mere acceptance, isn't it? Because Jesus promises Nathanael an encounter with the heavenly realm.
Nathanael's story must in some way be all of our stories- that we have been truly recognised by God and, despite our imperfections, perhaps because of them, we are loved and accepted. And crucially, all this takes place in our here and now, in our reality. Not in some far off utopia, when conditions are perfect or when we are perfect. But just as we are, right here and right now. And it is within Nathanael's everyday that he will witness the opening of the heavenly realm. Which begs the question, where is the heavenly realm in our everyday?
Perhaps we should really ask ourselves what we would expect of the heavenly realm? Are we anticipating angels and archangels; or the direct word of God? If so, we may be waiting a very long time! But if we can root ourselves in our everyday, if we can expect God in the midst of our reality, then we are more likely to recognise God in the day to day.
The past six months have been difficult and it seems as though the next six may be equally difficult. This is our reality, our everyday. So, although we eagerly anticipate that day when the restrictions are lifted and life can 'begin' again, let us not forget that we are alive now. And we are called to be a people of hope now. And we can expect to witness God at work here and now.