Reverend Robert Wright Canon of Westminster
Sunday, 17th July 2005
Trinity 8 17. vii.05
"Let anyone with ears listen" - not a bad text for the Sunday when the Choir School ends its Summer Term and seven of the boys move on to new schools.
"Let anyone with ears listen" - and they will hear the most exquisite sounds coming from the choir who never cease to amaze those of us who have the very remarkable privilege of hearing them sing regularly as they seem to strive more and more towards excellence. As we listen, how can we fail to be elevated, inspired, blessed as they draw us close to the very gates of heaven. The thrill of the high notes, the sharp poignancy of harsh words from the psalms sung to spine-chillingly beautiful chants, the excitement of the carefully crafted and executed consonance and dissonance of a Palestrina motet, are somehow expressed in John Donne's remarkable prayer
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion,
world without end.
after John Donne (1571-1631)
And that led me to muse about what you n., n., n., n., n., n., & n.will have heard during your last 5 years here "Let anyone with ears listen"What is it that I hope you will have heard?
Firstly, I know that you will have learnt a great deal about listening. I am not a musician but Vickram Seth's masterly novel "An equal music" gives a powerful insight into the relationships - both personal and musical- within a string quartet and I imagine that will be true in a choir also as you learn to sing together with absolute precision and you learn to hear the note you are aiming for. That is, I am sure, something you will carry with you for the rest of the lives and will I hope, put to good use over the years.
Secondly, - just by being in the Abbey day after day I hope that you will have gained some appreciation of the significance of sacred space and the importance of ritual. I know how very easy it is to just take things for granted but it is also important to remind ourselves that people come from all over the world to visit this holy place. In his sermon last Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked: "What do these stones mean?' ... For us, looking at the memorials of those witnesses to truth, they mean that God's faithfulness is made visible in lives that are loyal to him and to his beloved human children"
This building, then, speaks to us of faithfulness and trust in God and service of his people over more than a thousand years. As a result of our assembly last month we found that boys had been singing here since about 1350. You stand, then, in a long line of faithfulness. Perhaps individually, if we are honest, you won't be remembered any more than I shall, but we have all contributed, hopefully of our best, to help to make this place holy, none other than the House of God.
Thirdly, I hope that you will have learnt a few things about society. Not only have you watched day by day, millions of people from all corners of the globe visiting this Abbey, you have also been present at many of the significant national occasions over the years - to name but a very few: the funeral of the Queen Mother, the national Service after the attack on the Twin Towers, and the annual Commonwealth celebrations. You will have seen Christian leaders of many different denominations, together with the leaders of many faiths here in this national shrine. Indeed, last Sunday you saw Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi here and today we hear that he has been refused entry into the U.S.A. I hope that from this you will have drawn some preliminary conclusions about what it means to live in an open society where, within the framework of an Established Church, other Faiths are respected and even honoured, even when religion is twisted by extremists. And that you will have found in these significant rituals something of the generosity at the heart of God. But not something purely sentimental: our celebration last Sunday of the 60 thanniversary of the end of the Second world war with the strong emphasis on hope and the promise of youth within the context of the sacrifice of so many in 1939-45 was put into sharp focus by the dreadful bombing of London ten days ago.
Fourthly I hope that everything you have sung in these last 5 years will not just be words. But that in the midst of your music making you will have heard the Word, God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ. Although we are a Royal Peculiar, that is we stand outside the Church of England's structures and are responsible directly to Her Majesty the Queen, we are quite clear as a Chapter about our purpose:
Our ministry is:
to serve almighty God as a 'school of the lord's service'
by offering divine worship daily and publicly.
to serve the sovereign by daily prayer and by
a ready response to requests made by her or on
to serve the nation by fostering the place of
true religion within national life, maintaining a
close relationship with members of the House of
Commons and House of Lords and with others in
& to serve pilgrims and all other visitors and
to maintain a tradition of hospitality.
In helping us to achieve this, you have had a rich diet over the years, but I hope that you have heard something of the encounter between humanity and God: sometimes we discover God in our everyday
life - our joys and sorrows, in other people; whilst at other times we experience God beyond us, calling us out of what we are doing, demanding that we change our ways
and set out on a new stage of our journey. We experience God among us in his creation, in the Incarnation, in the signs of his kingdom which we express liturgically with
our celebration of Christmas, God's coming among us to share our life; or we experience God as the one who saves us, takes us out of the mess we are in, and gives us a
new start, which we celebrate liturgically at Easter, when we mark the victory of love over evil, life over death. I hope that you have found something of God's heart of love or, rather, have let Him find you!
"Let anyone with ears listen" Well, that is a tall task I have laid out for you , n., n., n., n., n., n., & n., isn't it? The Dean will be thanking you later today. For now, you have much more work to do today, continuing to play your part in providing this extraordinary focus of God's presence here in the heart of Westminster, extraordinarily in this House of God and House of Kings gathering around the altar where we find God revealed in our midst in the Word made flesh and in the Breaking of the Bread, a foretaste of the life we heard described by John Donne earlier in that beautiful prayer. And I hope that you will always hold on to three words that express what I have been trying to say to you today: "God's abiding love". "Let anyone with ears listen"In the name...