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Sermon for Eucharist: Choristers' last Sunday

Reverend Robert Wright Sub Dean

Sunday, 16th July 2006

Trinity 5. 2006. Choristers' last Sunday

Our readings could well lead us to consider probity and integrity in public life but I am going to pass over that because six of our senior choristers are leaving the choir today and I hope you will excuse me talking to them.

Nicholas, Ben, Elliot, Alexander, Thomas and Ashley I trust that you won't mind all these other people listening in on us!

Today, in a world crucified by suffering, poverty and violence our Christian vocation "to give an account of the hope that is within us" (1 Peter.3.15,) is both harder and more necessary than ever. In our Benedictine heritage the careful saying - and singing- of the daily offices is described as the work of God - the opus dei. Your part in that has significance far beyond those of us who are here regularly - the bringing of the world to God and God to the world in Christ.

We start with praising God: but all too easily we treat God as if he were absent. He isn't! He is present where there is a tearing apart of humanity, and he is present in those who seek to bind up the broken-hearted...proclaim liberty to the captives...and release to the prisoners. (Isa. 61. 2,) But, and here's the rub, as St Teresa said, "Christ has no other hands but yours to do his work today." And the Medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote: It is not due to God's justice or his severity that he demands so much of us, rather it comes from his great bounty, for he wants the soul to be capacious so as to hold the largesse he is ready to bestow."

The German poet, Rilke, in his Book of Hours writes:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.

Give me your hand.

Well, in different ways you have spent a considerable amount of your time saying/singing that, although perhaps in other words. But now you go on from here and I hope that you will be able to embody those words of Rilke, rather like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.

I trust that you will have been helped to grasp life in that way but I want to give you 4 pointers:

Firstly, I know that you will have learnt a great deal about the importance of listening. I am not a musician but I imagine that in a choir listening is critical 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 your lives and will I hope, be put to good use over the years, in the whole of your lives.

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 take things for granted so it is important to remind ourselves that people come from all over the world to visit this holy place whichhas spoken of faithfulness and trust in God, and service of his people over more than a thousand years. You stand in a long line of faithfulness. Perhaps individually, if we are honest we won't be remembered all that long, 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. You will have seen Christian leaders of many different denominations, together with the leaders of many faiths here in this national shrine. I hope that from this you will see what it means to live in an open society where, within the framework of an Established Church, other Faiths are respected and even honoured, in a world where we see the dangers when extremists twist religion. And I trust that you will have found in these significant rituals something of the generosity at the heart of God.

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. Whenever the Word of God is heard it doesn't just tell of hope, but of a hope that takes flesh and blood in our lives and words.

And so to Rilke again:

We see the brightness of a new page
Where everything yet can happen

"In God lies the possibility for us of a different world..." (Rowan Williams). If you have gained something of that vision in your years here we have done our work well and you have gained a pearl of great price!

On behalf of us all, I shall be saying a formal thankyou later on today, but a prayer of St Clare expresses my wish for you Nicholas, Ben, Elliot, Alexander, Thomas and Ashley:

May you go forward securely, joyfully, swiftly, on the path of true happiness.

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