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The Reverend Jane Sinclair Canon in Residence
Sunday, 10th June 2018 at 3.00 PM
Just over three weeks ago a prince and a beautiful actress made their marriage vows in front of a television audience of millions around the globe. Their Royal Highnesses Duke and Duchess of Sussex were married in the splendour of St George’s Windsor, and the nation celebrated the couple’s love with joyful enthusiasm, plenty of fizz, and street parties up and down the land.
We’ve had other celebrations since. Only 48 hours ago, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, came to the Abbey to open the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the triforium high above us. Her Majesty also took the opportunity to admire the newly installed cistern in the Great Garth, installed in memory of one of England’s most famous gardeners, Lancelot Capability Brown. Congratulations, thanks, smiles, photographs and a splendid lunch marked the occasion.
Everyone – well, almost everyone - loves a party. Weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, all these family celebrations give us reasons to celebrate together. We toast personal and national achievements, with pride and the drink of our choice. There is often a sense of relief at hard work completed; tempered with joy and hope for a good future ahead.
And the Church also knows how to celebrate. Between Advent Sunday at the end of November, and Trinity Sunday around the beginning of June, we celebrate the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ. We live Jesus’ story and make it our own. And as if that were not enough we also party on feast days throughout the year. Major saints’ days, a church’s patronal festival; here at the Abbey, the feast of St Edward the Confessor – all merit magnificent celebrations in music, word and prayer. Christianity is incorrigibly drama-filled – Christians are people who party and pray in equal measure.
But at the end of any party, isn’t it a relief when the guests have gone home, and the clearing up is done, and you can put up your feet with a cup of tea, and switch on the TV? It’s not that the celebration hasn’t been wonderful – it’s just that it’s good to get back to normality once again, back to the daily routine. You know where you are, and what to expect, more or less. You can relax, take stock, enjoy some down time.
And the good news is that this is exactly where we are in the Church’s year today. Trinity Sunday was a couple of weeks ago. We have entered into the long period of what the Book of Common Prayer calls ‘Sundays after Trinity’ – or Ordinary Time as we tend to call it nowadays. This is the Church’s opportunity to take stock, to have some down time, to remind itself of the daily round – of what it means to walk with Christ hour by hour; to know God with us in the everyday routine of our lives and worship.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that God is only involved in big life-changing occasions. But the God of those big occasions is also the God who shows himself to us in the daily round of life. Much of the Gospel story is focussed on the ordinary: eating, drinking, paying attention to people in need, being kind to children, courteous to neighbours, telling jokes, listening carefully, making a little go a long way, saying the same prayer that Jesus teaches. Much of the Gospel story is about those who follow Jesus learning how to do justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It’s not fireworks and miracles and angels in the sky. It’s ordinary routines given new meaning by Jesus; it’s vulnerable people learning what it means to be loved and cared for; it’s children being listened to and taken seriously; it’s discovering what the poet George Herbert describes as ‘heaven in ordinary’.
We have twenty-four weeks ahead of us until the beginning of the new Church year on Advent Sunday. And, yes, there will be some celebrations – patronal festivals for the Abbey and St Margaret’s, the centenary of the Royal Air Force, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service, Edwardtide – and there will be some major commemorations, too: services to give thanks for the life of Professor Stephen Hawking, and to mark the centenary of the end of World War 1. Celebration and solemnity will punctuate the months ahead. But that is what those occasions are: punctuations of the onward flow of ordinary time.
For Ordinary Time is marked by the regular quiet heartbeat of the Church’s worship. Here at the Abbey every day, 365 days of the year, we hold services of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer or Evensong, and the Eucharist. Day in, day out, the Church’s worship is offered; without fuss or drama – just the word of God attended to, prayer offered in faith, bread and wine shared, and lives quietly enriched. There is a calm healing rhythm to our worship in Ordinary Time. And all are welcome to make this rhythm their own. All are welcome to rest in the simple, unfussy grace of God in our midst.
For the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is fundamentally about redeeming the everyday, God at work among us in Morning Prayer on a dark wet Thursday, quite as much as in the glories of a solemn liturgy on Christmas Eve; in the washing-up and the weeding quite as much as at a royal wedding. The extraordinary truth is that the grace of God abounds in the ordinary for us all, whether we know it or not.
The American poet, Enuma Okoro, puts it beautifully in Passing Ordinary Time.