The month of November serves to remind us of our connection with the living and the dead, our theology of the Communion of Saints. This was evident to me on Saturday when we gathered at the Cathedral to pray with and give thanks to the lives of the many religious in our diocese. It was good to be there and to hear the voices of nearly 100 women in our Cathedral, reminding me of listening to women pray the divine office in chant. Somehow, in music and song, we are invited to touch the heavenly realms, while keeping our feet firmly planted on the earth. The dome of the Cathedral reminds us of the place of the church as a mediator between heaven and earth.
The Mass for religious was held on the Feast of two apostles, St Simon and St Jude. I felt drawn to share with you the reading of that day from St Paul to the Ephesians 2:19-22:
Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
As I listened to this reading surrounded by the many religious, I recalled my message of last week when I commented that:
“The centre of our compass seems to have become dislodged and we may well loose our bearings.”
I really appreciated a comment from Adel who wrote:
“I am pretty sure that we won't lose our compass when we have a keystone such as Christ...which I am happy to think of as 'love' and in relative terms for me, ...'beauty'.”
Thanks Adel for taking the time to remind me and others of this; which becomes more apparent and real for me when I am part of the wider community, particularly when we are worshipping together.
In the Gospel reading (Matthew 22:34-40) for the weekend, the Pharisees attempt to trick Jesus in asking him the question about which is the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus, a Jew, simply states the words of the Shema prayer, which he would have recited at least twice a day – ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
I have shared the great Jewish Shema prayer with you previously but I will do so again:
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One.
You shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
Therefore, place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates - so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.
The Pharisees refer to Jesus as ‘Master’ or ‘Teacher’ or in Hebrew, ‘Rabbi’. I saw the movie Victoria and Abdul during the week and I note that particularly in the scene in which Victoria is dying she asks to be left with Abdul, her ‘munshi’. It is here that he reaches out to her as a spiritual advisor or guide, providing her with reassurance that she is safe and will be going to her eternal home. At least in the movie, that is how he is portrayed. She felt safe with him because she could be herself and was understood and accepted. He provided her with companionship, loyalty and wisdom. It appears that she was consoled by his presence. Even queens of great status need a ‘teacher’ of wisdom. I wonder who your teachers are, or have been, as we recall the Communion of Saints.
After the celebration for the Religious on Saturday, I called into both the Islamic Centre at Mayfield and the Wallsend Mosque as it was their open day. Both locations were busy with both Muslims and non-Muslims sharing their common humanity, food and friendship, while opening up understandings of the Islamic faith. Once again people were sharing their faith and wisdom.
A week ago I was invited, along with many people to the festivities to commemorate the 200th birthday of Baha’u’llah, the person who founded the Bah’ai faith. There were people there from many faith backgrounds, and the Bah’ai community shared generously their belief that Baha’u’llah’s teachings promote unity and justice, so as to bring about a harmonious and cohesive society. This was a celebration of the oneness of humanity, while at the same time cherishing the tremendous diversity of the world’s cultures. The food and entertainment provided us with the taste and visual experiences from around our globe.
So the Communion of Saints serves to remind me that we, as humans, share a common home and a common purpose, and while we may be people of differing faith backgrounds, Jesus’ commandments to love God and to love neighbour ring true for all of us. Let’s embrace what we hold to be true and just and right at the heart of our different faith traditions.
I conclude this week’s message with the following prayer:
For prayer and action…
Our life is love and peace, and tenderness; and bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying for one another, and helping one another up with a tender hand. (Isaac Pennington, 1667: Quaker faith and practice 10.01)