I Was Glad

Here is Rev Sue’s sermon from Wednesday 5 May 2021.

If you recognised the Psalm 122, more than likely it’s because of the well-known anthem “I was glad” which was written for the coronation of Edward VII and has been used at many other Royal occasions including weddings since. Originally the Psalm was sung by pilgrims going to festivals in Jerusalem.

One of the great moments of the Old Testament is the giving of the 10 commandments. The Israelite people were wandering in the Sinai desert, having escaped from slavery in Egypt.  God gave them laws to guide them as they established themselves as a nation. He gave Moses the 10 commandments written on tablets of stone. Inscribed by God himself, they were a very precious thing, so they needed to be kept carefully and reverently. The Israelites made a gold-plated chest known as the ark of the covenant. As the people made their way through the desert, following the pillar of cloud, the ark would be carried half a mile in front of them. When they pitched their camp, they set up the tabernacle – a special tent – to house the ark. The cloud that had guided them through the desert came to rest in the holy of holies, in the heart of the tabernacle. It became the dwelling place of God. Later, when they were settled in the Promised Land, King David brought the ark to Jerusalem, and Solomon, his son, built a magnificent temple to house it. Within the temple was the innermost room, the Holy of Holies, where only the priests could enter. Incense was burnt and a light kept burning. It may be that Psalm 122 was used for the first time at the ceremony when the ark finally had a permanent home and was placed in the temple. Certainly, it became traditional for pilgrims to sing it when they went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the various festivals. At the end of what was for some a long and arduous journey it celebrated their final ascent of Mount Zion.

We have echoes of those beliefs in our practice in churches today. Here we have two aumbreys, in which we keep a portion of the bread and wine that has been consecrated at the Eucharist, and we keep the sanctuary lights burning to remind us of the presence of the sacrament. We believe that in our church is a dwelling place of God – but we know, too, that he is everywhere. We meet him in our homes in nature and in our own hearts.

This year has brought our relationship with the buildings into sharp focus. There were months when we mourned being completely shut out. Then a time when at least the clergy could come in to record services. If we couldn’t meet as the people of God, at least we could see the church on our screens and there was comfort in that. And now, our wary return, socially distanced and carefully cleaned, when, thanks be to God, we have managed to accommodate everyone who has wanted to come. We have been reminded once more how much our buildings mean to us, St Margaret’s remembering that time of exile before when the church was damaged by fire and the services had to be held across the road. But conversely, we know that our faith continues in those times when we are bereft of our buildings. It is enriched by them but does not depend on them.

Solomon’s temple was destroyed, rebuilt by Nehemiah, and that temple too was destroyed not long after Jesus’ death. The Jews for 2000 years have kept their faith alive in its absence. In my time I’ve worshipped in some very varied churches, each of which taught me something a little different. I remember a tiny church in the Black Country with a corrugated iron roof, and a congregation immensely pleased that they had built it themselves. There was a church in Birmingham with two worship areas separated by a hall, so that two different denominations shared the building and screens could be pulled back to make one large area for joint services. And there was Kings College chapel, where the breath-taking beauty of the paintings and architecture added to the richness of the worship. So I would encourage you, when you get the chance, perhaps for Mission Partnership or Churches Together services to explore other churches and to find that their buildings, too, are the house of God.

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