Sermon preached at the Sung Eucharist on the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2023
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’
The Reverend Robert Latham Sacrist
Sunday, 14th May 2023 at 11.15 AM
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’
What sweet music we make when we live and work together in harmony.
It’s been a funny old week really. In the Abbey and outside... so much invested in the events of last weekend, that the days which have followed, even when busy, have lacked the clarity and momentum of the days that came before.
We are at our best in corporate life and offering... the Abbey - the church - when we work together. Each giving of our best - not for ourselves or the furtherance of our own reputation or career, but to the end of a corporate offering for the glory of God and the wonder and uplifting of all. We’ve just shown it - we’ve just lived it - we know it to be so. And perhaps that is why it is hard to know quite how to move on.
As we gather here in St Margaret’s, there are various teams at work in the Abbey dismantling and removing the last of the physical structures and apparatus brought in to support the act of Coronation... the staging, the carpets and furniture. We are slowly making our way back to normality.
And that is good on one level, because we cannot sustain the high-octane energy or the laser-like focus that the Coronation required of us... but it can also be deflating if we see it as a height from which we must now descend - suffering the indignity of clearing up after us as we go!
If we listen really carefully, we might just hear the strains of Doris Day coming from the cloisters as she croons...
“The party’s over - time to call it a day...
they’ve burst your pretty balloon, and taken the moon away”
But that would be to miss the point... as this was always going to be extraordinary, and it was always going to pass.
Coronation day is rather like a wedding day - all the big preparations and expectations... the glorious event itself where promises are made and witnessed, prayers offered and God’s blessing received; the anointing Spirit at work. The memories will last, the promises will last, but the event is over... and the marriage has begun - a new chapter - a relationship defined that now has to be lived out.
The Coronation has happened - the new Carolean era is a chapter we shall write together. Whatever our part was on the day, we each have a part to play in the corporate life that follows.
Now things are returning to normal - we will find that normality is where the
true challenge lies - the everyday - without tight focus or seemingly impossible demands. When we can’t push everything else out of the way and say ‘I just have to focus on this one thing’. So when we come down from the summit - we might well ask, just how are we supposed to live now?
Our gospel reading and the Abbey itself give us a clue...
When we dismantle the temporary structures that supported the act of Coronation, we shall reveal the permanent structures that held them and us throughout all the proceedings: the stones of the Abbey… the work of centuries... of prayer and offering... the architecture and ‘theatre’ of community.
Throughout all the preparations, and even when the Abbey was closed to the public, the daily pattern of prayer and Communion continued... smaller, quieter, but unbroken. So too, the pattern of community life, with its blessings and trials visited on individuals within. The need of one to support the other was as apparent as ever. Coronation brings no immunity to life. In the midst of so much upheaval and activity our Daily Office, our prayers, held us firm.
As we come down from the summit of Coronation - and begin a new chapter - we can look back through the centuries and learn something important from the heritage of this former Benedictine Abbey (no stranger to coronations after all) that in keeping the routines of the ordinary, we should also deepen our commitment to the ordinary... the regular... and in so doing deepen our commitment to community and one another. The concept enshrined in the Benedictine way of life... known to them as mutual obedience.
Obedience – here, from the latin Ob-audire, meaning to listen, to attend carefully to the other... listening, noticing, anticipating, serving... focussed on the needs of others for the love of Christ. This stance, when truly mutual, embraces all. After all, a community given to silence becomes quite good at reading the needs of others!
Each contributing their gifts and skills and presence to the community - yet with a mind to share and bless - not to impress, influence or control. Such loving and selfless service of others is enshrined in the meaning of Christian charity. All this is summed up by St Benedict with the Latin, Obedientiae bonum - obedience is a blessing.
And so we come to our Gospel reading... taken from a long passage of John, where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure... and what for them will be a new chapter.
He has already washed the feet of his disciples... broken bread with them... and said to them, “I give you a new commandment... that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples...” So it is in this context that we hear the words “If you love me, you will keep my commandments...”
Jesus goes on to say that the Father will send another Advocate - the Spirit of truth, who they will know because he abides with them and in them.
The anointing spirit, that gives us strength and humility in equal measure to make way for the other, to attend to their story and their need, is given to those who first attend to Christ - who are obedient to him.
What this Abbey bears witness to - in the extraordinary and the ordinary - is the work of the Spirit. And despite all the coverage of the Coronation service, it was the one thing the cameras could not capture - yet we could see it at work in us and among us - and poured out richly upon our king.
Yet, in the Spirit of truth, we must recognise that for all its moments of beauty and many blessings... everyday living in community - be it collegiate, monastic, family, workplace or country - can be hard.
When the big project is over, when we cease to come together so readily, we will begin once again to dance around points of division... sometimes merrily with mirth and wit, other times more pointedly. This is where it will take work to notice the drift and resist the current that leads to choppy waters. But resist we must... for it is our clear calling: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Our teachings do not call for a false peace or cosy communion... but to bear our differences in love and grace. And if we do not neglect to pray together, eat together, listen to one another, understand, honour, anticipate, care and serve one another - in full knowledge of our differences - then our peace and our communion shall be true.
Following so rich an offering of Christian promise in the Coronation, and so corporate an effort from those of all faiths and none - may it be our hope and prayer that we might learn that we are truly better together. And, having spent time so closely with one another, in mutual obedience for a common purpose, may it be our prayer that something of this understanding might live on in all of us.
So… if you hear the strains of Doris Day as we slowly return to normality... I suggest you counter with a touch of Thomas Tallis... ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’
For, properly understood - obedience is indeed a blessing.
 The Coronation service held on Saturday 6th May
 ‘The Party’s Over’, a song by Jule Styne, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
 Chapters 71 and 72 of The Rule of Benedict
 John 13:35-35
 Motet: ‘If ye love me keep my commandments’ by Thomas Tallis