Tag Archives: hope

Sleepers wake: the Advent call to rise from the darkness and be lights in our world

A reflection given by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on Advent Sunday, 29 November 2015, as part of a service of lessons and carols for Advent:

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[Click for Audio on Soundcloud]

One of the first classical concerts I ever took part in, as a boy treble attending a German Lutheran High School named for the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, was a liturgical performance of Bach’s famous Advent Cantata, ‘Sleepers wake’ – ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’. We were all dressed in our black and white concert gear, assembled on the choir galleries of the large impressive city centre church, the orchestra at our feet, with the conductor poised to break the silence of the audience with Bach’s wonderful music.

As the violins soared, the trebles called out the solemn cry of the watchman on the city wall of Jerusalem, ‘Sleepers, wake, the bridegroom comes; wake up, all you who sleep in the city of Jerusalem’, we sang. It was an electrifying moment when the director gave us trebles our entry: ‘Wachet auf’, we called in Bach’s unforgettable setting of the timeless words. And the basses, tenors and altos took up our theme, calling the audience to be alert, awake; to listen to the Good News that the long awaited bridegroom had finally arrived.

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The text on which Bach’s famous cantata is based is one of the last parables (or teaching stories) Jesus tells his friends, the disciples (Matthew 25.1-13): Jesus tells of those who kept alert, awake, through the night, who had kept the light going in the middle of darkness, and were able to see when the bridegroom arrived. As they joyfully entered the brightly-lit wedding hall for a midnight feast, those who had let their lights go out remained outside, were left behind in the darkness, Jesus told his friends. And encouraged them, ‘be alert, therefore, for you do not know the time or the hour’ (Matthew 25.12).

We do not know the time or the hour when Jesus Christ will return, joyfully like a bridegroom, to take us out of the many darknesses of our nights into his brightly-lit chambers for a feast of light. For each of us those darknesses may be different, may pose different challenges, represent different fears. For some, those nights of waiting are spent in fear or nightmares – the fear of persecution for their faith or displacement, the nightmare of terror or war; the fear of ill-health or age, the nightmare of depression and anxiety; the fear of redundancy or injury; the nightmare of unemployment, or of no longer being able of to make ends meet. Each of our nights, each of our Advents; looks and feels different.

But in each of these seasons of waiting through the hours of our nights and darknesses, we are encouraged to keep a light burning. Jesus’ story tells us to keep a light burning. A light that will both cast a glimmer of hope in the darkness, and that will keep our eyes alert, wakeful, ready to see the light-filled procession when the bridegroom comes. Jesus’ story tells us to keep our lamps trimmed; drawing on the resources of our faith – our prayers, our intent to love the Lord our God, and our neighbours as ourselves – in order to keep those lights burning through the night.

And Jesus’ story invites us to come together in our waiting; to leave behind the isolation of the darkness and to seek out glimmers of other lights, others who will share with us in our season of waiting. Because where many small lights come together, there the darkness is already disappearing. Jesus’ story invites us to fill the dark hours of our world with our lights, and to do so together, as a community of faith: encouraging one another as we wait for the greatest light of all to come, and extinguish all darkness forever. And as we wait, as a token of that hope, we are each given a lamp, a light, to share and to shine into the darkness, as we await the promised feast when Jesus comes again.

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I loved performing Bach’s music as a child, and am delighted that I still get to sing today, once or twice a year, with the MSO Chorus. I well recall the excitement of that first performance, poised for my entry to sing the joyful song that the darkness now is over, and the bridegroom is here: ‘Wachet auf’, we sang, ‘Sleepers wake’, we sang out; telling all who would hear that those who kept their lights burning through the night were already on their way into the wedding hall, and inviting others to join the joyful feast of the Light that has overcome the darkness, of the Light that illumines even the middle of the darkest night.

The season of Advent is a bit like preparing for a musical performance, like Bach’s ‘Wachet auf’. Rehearsed and ready, in our concert clothes, standing in our places, with music in our hands and the song ready in our heads, watching out for the conductor to signal us to sing. Alert and awake, ready to sing out at the right signal, ready to call others to join the joyful song, ready to call any who will listen to hear that now is the moment to awake, to leave behind the darkness and to enter into the light.

This Advent, I give thanks for the joyful song that promises to call us from darkness to light. I give thanks for the time of preparation, the time when we rehearse that song through our prayers, our reading of the stories that remind us of God’s promise that the darkness will not have the upper hand, when we share our works of hope in a world where there is still so much hopelessness. I give thanks for those who rehearse, who wait, with us, who share their light, their companionship, with us as we wait. And I give thanks for those who lead us in our song, who keep their eyes alert with us, who encourage us to keep our joyful song ready in our hearts – ready to call out: ‘Sleepers, wake: the Lord is here’.

Ⓒ Text and Audio: Andreas Loewe, 2015 

God’s Angels: Messengers of hope in a world of conflict

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on the Feast of St Michael and All Angels 2014:

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Today’s readings (Daniel 7.1-18, Revelation 11.9-12.10, John 1.45-51) set before us dramatic visions of the end-times that tell of the terror of destruction and war: they remind us of the political, military and spiritual causes of conflict, and paint a sweeping picture of the disregard for human life when powers wage war against one another. At the same time, our readings set before us the assurance of a just ruler, ‘one like a Son of Man’, who will break this cycle of violence, who will prepare a place of safety for his own and, ultimately, will bring in his realm of peace. Until that time, our readings assure us, the people of God journey together protected by the hand of God, and aided in hope by the ministry of Michael and the angels whose festival we mark today.

Our first lesson, from the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 7.1-18), retells a terrifying night vision the prophet received in the form of ‘dreams and visions of his head as he lay in bed’ (Daniel 7.1). In his blood-filled dream Daniel saw four mythical animals, each representing an ancient middle-Eastern empire, each riding to power on the crest of a tidal wave of war, each animal devouring one another. In their struggle for political and military supremacy, many lost their lives: the prophet describes this incredible loss of lives in terms of a savage beast ‘devouring many bodies’ (Daniel 7.5). After the mass destruction of three successive empires raking across the nations of the Middle East, the final empire destroyed all that remained: ‘devouring, breaking in pieces and stamping what was left with its feet’ (Daniel 7.7). The motivation for this mass destruction is the human desire to affirm superiority: Daniel’s dream tells how the empire’s leader asserted the power he gained through terror and destruction ‘arrogantly’ (Daniel 7.8).

Where our first lesson speaks of the terror of human powers contending with one another, our second lesson from the Revelation of John the Divine (Revelation 11.9-12.10), speaks of another form of war: that of the powers of heaven; a spiritual war made visible in the message of our seer. The power of evil manifested in the form of a ‘great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns on his head’: a powerful beast that already holds many human empires in its sway—the seven crowns tell of the dragon’s temporal power—and that now contends for the power of heaven: ‘his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth’ (Revelation 12.4). Its object of destruction is not only the firmament and the earth below but humanity and its relationship with God: ‘a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (Revelation 12.1). In John’s vision humanity stands at the heart of the cosmos: the miracle of new human life in the form of a heavily-pregnant woman enrobed in the powers of sun and moon, yet at her most vulnerable, ‘crying out in birth-pangs in the agony of giving birth’ (Revelation 12.2).

The object of destruction in both end-time visions is vulnerable humanity. Temporal and spiritual powers contending to assert their authority over the created order. Both visions place the human race at the heart of God’s universe; both speak of human frailty when faced with such overpowering adversaries. And both visions clearly identify the source of this terror: human and superhuman arrogance—the inordinate desire to dominate and destroy, suborn and obliterate. At the same time both visions also speak of the timeless hope for those who contend with the—equally timeless—manifestations of the human struggle for dominion: the vision of a divine ruler who will break the cycle of violence and bring in his kingdom of justice and peace.

Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ to whom was ‘given dominion and glory and kingship’, the One whom ‘all peoples, nations and languages shall serve’ (Daniel 7.14). The ruler foreseen by the Divine John, who will bring to the universe ‘the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God’ (Revelation 12.10). A ruler who is ‘like a Son of Man’, yet the eternal Lord: who is both human and divine. A ruler who was at the beginning and will have endless sovereignty: who holds together the eternal and the temporal in a single span. A ruler who shows his power in weakness: who defeats the powers of destruction by his own death; who receives glory and kingship by first ascending to the throne of the cross. That ruler is Jesus Christ, our Gospel reading tells (John 1.45-51).

It is the ascent to the cross, John’s Gospel asserts, that confirms Christ’s sovereignty over the people of God, and his identity as the Son of God. In the brief encounter between Philip, Nathanael and Jesus, that stands at the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading the two Galileans immediately identify the teacher seated under the fig-tree as the man of Daniel’s vision: ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’, Nathanael exclaims (John 1.49). And Jesus tells Nathanael that he will ‘see greater things’ than a man who can judge the purity of his heart and know and declare him to be ‘an Israelite in whom there is no guile’: ‘Amen, amen, I tell you: you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’ (John 1.51).

John’s Gospel leaves no doubt that the moment at which Nathanael’s ‘greater vision’ is fulfilled is the moment at which Christ breathes his last on the cross and confirms, ‘it is accomplished’ (John 19.30). Where the bystanders saw Jesus breathe his last, the universe witnessed the sending out of the Holy Spirit, and ‘heaven opened’ to reveal God’s glory and sovereignty (John 1.51, 19.31). Where the bystanders saw an ignominious death, the universe witnessed the triumph of the war of heaven: the Archangel Michael and ‘his angels fighting against … the deceiver of the whole world’ (Revelation 12.7-8). Where the bystanders saw the execution of a condemned man, the cosmos saw the restoration of the connection between heaven and earth by the ministry of the angels: ‘angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’ on the cross as on a ladder (John 1.51).

The dramatic and disturbing visions held before us this morning are as much visions of the past as they are visions of the future. Some aspects of them might even seem to us to be visions of the present, as the nations of the Middle East once again ride the precarious crest of a tidal wave of destruction and turmoil. Yet they also assure us that held against the human tide that seeks to destroy and sever the relationships between humans and God, is God’s tide of grace: grace that has been won on the cross, grace that already has restored, and forever continues to seek to restore, the relationships between God and humankind.

In this ebb and flow of human ambition, arrogance and sin, and divine grace, it is the angels of God who are the messengers of our hope. For they continually make known the message of heaven open and grace bestowed as they ascend and descend upon the crucified and glorified Son of Man. With the cross a ladder that spans heaven and earth, and that forever recalls the Fount of Grace, God’s angelic messengers proclaim on earth the message of a righteous ruler and judge, who seeks the friendship and welfare of all people. Just as they have done at the time of the birth of the Son of Man and Son of God in Bethlehem, when they sang of God’s vision for his world to become his kingdom of peace and goodwill for all humankind, so they still make known the message of that kingdom today.

We may not be given the vision to behold God’s angels as the winged warriors of heaven led by the powerful Archangel Michael. Yet we will, without doubt, encounter God’s angels as we journey to God’s kingdom. The Greek word, angelos from which we derive our word ‘angel’, first of all means ‘messenger’: a messenger of the Good News that God will guide his people through the skirmishes of life to a place of peace. We all will have encountered angels that shared this hope with us in times of difficulty—they may have been a neighbour, a friend, a member of your family, a colleague, or your priest. We all are called to share in the ministry of the angels, are all called to become messengers of God’s Good News: that warfare and terror will not have the final word, that the ultimate conflict has already been fought and won, and that God seeks peace for his world and his people.

As we give thanks for the many messengers of God, it is my prayer for you and for me, that we too might become messengers of God’s hope in our own generation: share here on earth the ministry of his angels, his messengers, in heaven.

Now to him, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him, to him be glory in the Church now and and forever. Amen (1 Peter 3.22).

Transform the future: care for one another as God cares for you

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 7 September 2014:

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This morning’s lessons remind us of God’s care for us, and urge us to extend the same care to others. They tell us that God’s care is for the whole person—God keeps us safe in body and soul—and assure us that God gives us a home with him forever. Not only that: they tell us that God rejoices in bringing home people who have wandered away or are lost. And because God rejoices in bringing people home, we, too are to reach out both to those who still seek after God, as well as look out for those who have already found him and have committed themselves to God’s care.

Our first lesson, from the book of the Exodus (Exodus 12.1-14), takes us to the beginning of the story of God and his chosen people. This is the moment at which the people are set free from slavery in a foreign land and made God’s own. The beginning of a long journey with their God during which God reveals himself to his people as their Sovereign Lord, and caring protector. God will walk with his people through their long desert journey, and will guide them to freedom in a land that he shall give them. And at the beginning of that journey stands the final, dramatic act of liberation from the powers of Egypt: the judgment of the gods of Egypt by the Passover of God’s Angel of Death.

So significant is this beginning of the journey of God with his people, that ‘this day shall be a day of remembrance for you’, our reading tells: ‘You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it’ (Exodus 12.14). Those who experienced the hurried meal, ‘your loins girded, with sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand’, those who ate and made ready to leave the country of their oppressors to escape from their slavery, were charged to share this extraordinary experience with the generations that came after them (Exodus 12.11). The lamb eaten in travelling clothes, with their belongings packed and their walking staff at hand. The blood sprinkled onto their homes as a sign of God’s presence and of their belonging to God. All this was to become a living memory, a memorial to be enacted in every generation ‘as a perpetual ordinance’ (Exodus 12.14).

Those who were to join the journey with God at a later stage would also eat the hurried meal, share the unleavened bread and thereby recall God’s presence and his promise: that God would judge the institutions that continued to hold people enthralled; that he would tear down the idols that still made people slaves; that he would be present with his people in abject hardship, would be there in their oppression. That he would be with his people and that ‘no plague shall destroy you’ (Exodus 12.13). So important was this beginning of the people’s journey with their God to the home he promised them, that the Day of Passover became the beginning of a new era: ‘this month shall mark the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you’ (Exodus 12.2). A New Year, a new time: to mark the beginning of the journey to the home God promises his people.

For generations the people of God remembered his promise and his action in destroying the structures that enslave. Until, at the beginning of another age, the turning of time when God’s avenging Angel of Wrath gave way to God’s Angel of Peace—at the moment the birth of his Son was made known to frightened shepherds holding watch over their flock at night; at the beginning of another time in the land that had seen much promise and was to be a home for God’s people, but had become a land of oppression and fear; at the beginning of a new journey, God once more spoke to his people through his Son. In our reading from the Gospel according to St Matthew (Matthew 18.10-20), it is God’s Son who speaks to all those who will listen, reminds them of the promise of old: the promise of the new time, the promise of the new journey. The promise that God will remain with his people in spite of their waywardness; that God seeks to bring his people home, even though the land to which he had taken them had once more become a place of oppression and servitude.

God is so close to his people that it is as if he beheld them face to face. Even though we may not always feel that we stand in his presence, our reading tells us that ‘in heaven our angels continually see the face of Christ’s Father in heaven’ (Matthew 18.10). We are continually represented before God, are continually present to him. Just as in the coming among us of his Son Jesus Christ a part of God is permanently among us humans, so in the place to which God calls us, in the heavenly home to which the journey begun at the ‘beginning of all months’ will ultimately lead, we permanently are represented before him. Again, as in our first lesson, it is angels—divine messengers—that span the distance between the eternal God and his people on earth: our ‘angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven’, Jesus tells (Matthew 18.10). Just as the angels behold God in heaven, so God beholds us and cares for us. Each of his people—each one of us—is present before him.

The act of making his people present before God starts with the sacrifice begun in our first lesson: the shedding of the blood of an unblemished lamb, and the sprinkling of that blood on the homes of God’s people as a sign of their commitment, their confidence in the protection of their God. ‘The blood shall be a sign to you on the houses where you live’, our first reading tells, just as the blood is a sign for God: ‘when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you’ (Exodus 12.13). The sprinkled blood of the sacrificial lamb identifies each home as a dwelling of a person who trusts God, and who, in turn, is known and identified by God.

Our gospel reading affirms that what is true for our temporal homes also holds true for the eternal home that God has prepared for the people committed to him. Those who share in the paschal sacrifice completed by God’s own Lamb, the sacrifice wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, also share the marks of that sacrifice. Indeed, they do not only share the marks of sacrifice, but share its benefits: like Christ, they may call on God as their Father. And like Christ who, following his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, continually beholds the face of his Father in heaven, they too—we too—are represented before God in heaven. For in Christ our humanity is ever before God.

No wonder, then, that God cares for his people and wants to seek out those who are lost, or know him not. The sacrifice at the beginning of the new time as the Angel of Death swept away the deities of Egypt and revealed them as idols, and the completion of that sacrifice, as the conqueror of Death swept away death, by dying once and for all on a cross, surely are the ultimate signs of God’s care for his people: God has come among us; and we stand before God, may call on him as our Father; confident that he cares for us, knows us for who we are here on earth, and beholds us as we can be in heaven.

Our readings assure us that God knows full well that we—his people—can err and stray from our ways like lost sheep. Our Gospel reading tells us that God is like a good shepherd who cares so much for his flock that he will seek out the lost (Matthew 18.12). But at the same time, even though God knows us to be flawed and fallible, he also knows who we can be, for our ‘angels continually see the face of the Father in heaven’ (Matthew 18.10).

In the same way, our readings tells us that God knows full well that the land in which we dwell—the good and pleasant land of his promise—and the structures we choose for ourselves, or which are imposed on us, are often likely to be flawed. Our second reading from the letter to the Romans (Romans 13.1-10), with its reflection on good use of authority makes that abundantly clear. Yet even though our structures are often fallible and can fail, God knows them for what they can be: he sets before us a home in heaven in the certain expectation that one day God’s will be done on earth as well as in heaven.

God knows both our potential—as individuals and as a society as a whole—and our shortcomings and flaws. And even though he knows us as we are, he promises to care for us; promises to walk with us and to seek us out again and again. In return, he expects us to remember him by celebrating his saving acts again and again ‘as a festival to the Lord’, recalling the sacrifice of the paschal lamb each day in our celebration of the meal Jesus gave his disciples. God expects us to walk with him in the confidence he promises, strengthened by the tokens of his abiding presence with us.

And in return for his care of seeking out the lost with joy, and not in judgement, God expects us to extend the same care that he affords us to others. The essence of God’s expectations of us is summed up in our epistle: ‘owe no one anything’, Paul reminds the Roman congregation, ‘except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law’ (Romans 13.8). Love one another just as God loves us. Care for one another, just as God cares for us. Pray for one another, just as God receives and hears our prayers. Remain with one another, just as God remains with us.

Do all this in the knowledge that by doing so, the signs of our home in heaven may be shown forth here on earth, and may help transform our flawed structures, and our frail humanity, to conform to our image and pattern in heaven on which God gazes in love day by day. Do all this together, gathered as people of faith, in the knowledge and assurance that ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, God is among us’, to aid us in this work of transformation (Matthew 18.20).

‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen’ (Ephesians 3.20-21).

Heaven on earth: living in the places in-between

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at Choral Evensong at Magdalene College Cambridge, on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 18 May 2014:

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I bring you greetings from St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, the metropolitical Cathedral for the province of Victoria in Australia. It is a great pleasure to be back in Cambridge, and to reflect with you on the promise of tonight’s prophetic readings: the promise that we are called to be people who inhabit the in-between places between heaven and earth, and that, in the strength of that hope, we are invited to become people who share with God in the work of becoming a world where ‘mourning and crying and pain will be no more’ (Revelation 21.4).

Tonight’s readings both speak words of encouragement and hope to God’s people: our first lesson from the prophecy of Zechariah, speaks words of renewal and hope to the people of God exiled in Babylon where they were unsettled, far removed from their spiritual roots, with little hope of return and recovery. Our second lesson, from the Revelation of St John the Divine, speaks into a similarly unsettled context, but some six-hundred years later. Both communities—the Judean exiles settled at the banks of the meandering rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and the early Christian communities nestled on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean—shared a sense of uncertainty and volatility: whether in exile, or as a minority faith in an established Roman colony in Asia Minor. And our two prophets both speak words of incredible hope and radical change to their communities. They forsee nothing less than the coming among them of the living God: ‘I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy’, God declares to the Judean exiles through the word of Zechariah: ’my house shall be rebuilt in it’. (Zechariah 1.16). ‘The home of God is among mortals and he will dwell with them’, John speaks to the Churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 21.3). And that home for God, both our lessons assure us, is the Holy City Jerusalem.

In our first prophecy from the book Zechariah, the coming of God among his people is centred on the physical restoration of Jerusalem: God himself will rebuild his city. And in preparation for this return, God himself will measure the city and judge its people (Zechariah 1.16). God’s survey of the physical topology of Jerusalem goes hand in hand with his assessment of its people and their values. His new Jerusalem requires a new way of life altogether: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts’, Zechariah prophecies, ‘render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart’ (Zechariah 7.10). God reaches out to those in exile in Babylon and those living in the ruins of Jerusalem who ‘have been hearing the words from the mouth of the prophets’, in the knowledge that those who believe God’s promises will be the people who enable their fellows to re-enter Jerusalem and there to dwell with their God ‘in faithfulness and in righteousness’ (Zechariah 8.8-9). They will rebuild the spiritual life of God’s people in the same way in which God’s surveyors will measure out Jerusalem’s Temple sanctuary to be rebuilt by human architects (Zechariah 2.1-3).

Tonight’s first lesson, then, is not only a vision of what God’s new City and Temple will look like, but what it will be: graced by a great, golden menorah that either pours golden oil or pure gold—the Hebrew is ambiguous—and which clearly signifies God’s presence. The Temple is God’s home on earth: flanked by two olive trees, each symbolising a descendant of the House of David—Joshua, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the governor—it will be a place where spiritual and temporal rulers will act in unison to make Jerusalem a place where people ‘love truth and peace’ (Zechariah 8.10-13).

Because Joshua and Zerubbabel act unitedly and decisively they are the ‘two anointed ones’—or in Hebrew, Messiahs—‘who stand by the Lord of the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4.14). They are God’s ‘proto-Messiahs’ who will fulfil his vision until the day when God himself will reveal himself as Messiah, and give his own life for his own people.

God’s coming to dwell among his people is begun when God sends his two anointed ones to restore the sanctuary of God’s people: sends Joshua and Zerubbabel to lay the Temple’s foundation and bring out the chief corner stone in order to commence God’s work of spiritual renewal (Zechariah 4.8). God’s coming to dwell among his people is completed when God himself accomplishes the work of grace, when God witnesses, as Zechariah foretells towards the end of his prophecy, the death of the One ‘whom they have pierced’ (Zechariah 12.10). The Christ who, by ‘letting himself be pierced’, will ‘open a fountain [of grace] for … the inhabitants of Jerusalem’, as Zechariah promises (Zechariah 13.1). The Christ who, by allowing his own body to be broken on a cross, will ‘cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’ and thus complete the work of redemption (13.1). That work is completed ‘not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit’: is completed when the final high priest from the line of David, the final and greatest ruler, God’s own anointed Son, gives up his own Spirit for God’s people (Zechariah 4.6). And it is at that moment that heaven comes close to earth, is from that moment onward that God may indeed be found in Jerusalem and makes his home there (Zechariah 8.22).

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The cornerstone of grace which brings God close to his people, that Zechariah spoke of, for Christians surely is the bedrock of Calvary. For the threshold to God’s home on earth is found at the foot of the cross. And that is why, throughout the ages, poets and painters, church musicians and sculptors, have given expression to this hope through their artistic gifts. At the heart of the High Altar sanctuary of St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne their confidence is reflected in a spectacular, golden, Venetian mosaic of Christ’s crucifixion. There Christ is depicted on the cross, not in darkness or isolation, but surrounded by sun and moon and stars on a vibrant dark blue canopy that forms, as it were, a second lapis lazuli nimbus within the larger silver and gold nimbus that already envelopes the arms of the cross. At his feet the disciples and the believing centurion, both faithful Jews and one time sceptical gentiles, gaze up in worship at the moment when God came to make his home with his people: the moment when God’s Anointed One died on the cross; the time when we, people who have come to faith through contemplating this event, were given a place on the approach to the City of the living God.

The altarpiece in Melbourne’s Cathedral does not place us in the historical city of Jerusalem—Zechariah’s ruined city where people longed for their temple to be rebuilt at the time when Joshua and Zerubbabel laid its foundation stone. Nor does it place us outside the city walls of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death, when those who lived there continued to long for liberty from Roman oppression (and would continue to yearn for freedom of faith long after Christ died). Rather, the reredos in St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne places us at the place where the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem intersect. It places us at an envisaged place, where we stand the foot of the cross so that we may approach the heavenly Jerusalem, so that we may come close to the place where all have been set free to worship God. In our second lesson, from the Revelation to St John the Divine, that envisaged heavenly place is described as the haven of our redeemed humanity: it is the place where all is made new by the One who has accomplished all when he gave up his Spirit on the cross. For the Divine John that place is ‘the home of God among mortals … where death will be no more’ (Revelation 21.5).

As Christians, we are called to live in the hope of what is yet to come, while also inhabiting the messy realities of our here and now. As Christians we are called to inhabit that envisaged threshold space between the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem. St John’s ‘first things’ that used to enthral people may have passed away, but we can still feel the effects of those ‘first things’ today.

While you and I may never have to face exile for our faith like Joshua’s and Zerubbabel’s contemporaries, many of us will know—first hand or through media reports—people who have had to leave behind their homelands and families in order to enjoy the freedoms we tend to take for granted—I only have to think of the significant number of young Iranian Christians who worship with us at St Paul’s Cathedral. The visions of the new Jerusalems, whether Zechariah’s or John’s; the vision of the city of God where all tears will be wiped off our eyes, and death shall be no more, is not absolution from accepting the many injustices we observe in today’s society. Rather it is encouragement to us to occupy the threshold space between the here and now and the hereafter, encouragement through our action to address some of the wrongs of our own times. That is why at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne we have sent a strong message the government of Australia to protest against Australia’s inhumane and dehumanising asylum seeker policies by displaying an eight-metre-high banner urging the people of our city to ‘fully welcome refugees’. And I am certain that the same reason motivated your Master [Rowan Williams] to speak out so eloquently and prophetically about fighting poverty in this prosperous nation, promoting the work of our volunteer foodbanks.

Today’s lessons of a heavenly place redeemed by God so that his people may live life to the full, are encouragement to us to remember what has already been accomplished. Our lessons are assurance that to those who trust in the work of God, the world has already been set free. At the same time, our lessons challenge us to address the many injustices of our present age. They urge us to take action against the things that still make people ‘mourn and cry, hurt and die’ (Revelation 21.4). As Christians we are called to inhabit a difficult in-between place: not quite in the city of the living God where God will wipe away all tears; still surrounded by the things that still cause those tears; yet already fundamentally delivered from the things that separate us from God.

And because we live on the ‘not-yet-but-already-there’ threshold to the City of God, I give thanks for the prophets’ assurance that the home of God among mortals is among us even though we may often see and experience difficulty and hardship in the communities in which we live and study, worship and minister. I give thanks that, through in our ‘showing kindness and mercy to one another’, we already are, and can become, God’s fellow workers in the cause of making the good news of God’s City known to others (Zechariah 7.10). As we seek to show forth the way to God’s Heavenly City through the ministry of our Cathedrals, Collegiate chapels and parish churches—whether here in Cambridge, in Melbourne, or elsewhere—it is my prayer for you and for me, that God would continually equip us for his work of living and ministering in the ‘in-between places’: that he would give us all needful gifts for building up the body of Christ, so that we can indeed be the messengers and inhabitants of his City in our own generation (Ephesians 4.12).

‘And now him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Revelation 1.5-6).

 

The love that conquers death: Remembering those killed in the Swanston Street wall collapse

An address by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at a commemoration of the lives of Dr Marie-Faith Fiawoo, Bridget and Alexander Jones, at St Paul’s Cathedral, on 28 March 2014, the first anniversary of their accidental death following the sudden collapse of a wall on Swanston Street:

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What is the most important thing in life God gives us, Jesus is asked by a teacher of the law in today’s gospel reading. And Jesus tells him that the most important thing in life is love: ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, Jesus responds (St Mark 12.29-31). The greatest thing there is, is love: God’s profound, generous love for us; and, out of that overflowing love, our own capacity to love ourselves and those around us: ‘love God with all your heart and your soul, and your mind, and your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself’.

Love is the source and purpose of our being: we were created out of love and for love when God made humankind in his image as women and men, and saw that what he made was ‘very good’. And love is the goal of our being: as Christians we believe that God showed forth his love for us most closely when he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we might share in his love, and live lives freed from the fear of sin, and death. The love we have for one another, the love that sustains our being, is rooted in the profound love that God has for us, and showed forth in the death of his only Son, Jesus.

And because of that love, Christians believe that death has been conquered by love; that although in the midst of live we face death, death is not forever: rather, we believe that love is forever. Love for the God who gives us life when we a born, and a new life when we die. Love for ourselves, and all that is good and life-giving in our lives. Love for those we love, and those God gives us to be our neighbours: our friends and companions on our journey through life.

It is in this confidence that we honour today the lives of the three young scholars who died a year ago today as a wall further up this Street collapsed on them, killing researcher Dr Marie-Faith Fiawoo, whose family join us today to remember her life with us, and students Bridget and Alexander Jones. We remember them today, and give thanks for what they were to us: three people we recall because we love them, even though they have been taken from us. And we give thanks that the gift of love remains for us: the love they gave us, the love we have for them, and the love that God gives us and all who love him. A love that is forever; a love that is stronger than death itself.

‘One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Thanks be to God for the gift of the lives of Marie-Faith, Bridget and Alexander, and for the love that we have for them. And thanks be to God that his gift of love conquers death and has given us, and all the departed, the firm and certain hope of life in his presence forever. Amen.

Photo credit: Wayne Taylor, The Age