On Sunday we celebrated our Feast of Dedication. It was a significant birthday, celebrating 150 years of the dedication of the present church building to St Michael and All Angels.
Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass, where Our Gospel reading was taken from John 2:13–22.
We were also glad to see the return of Evensong and Benediction. The sermon at Evensong, preached by Fr Peter Williams, can also be found in this post.
Read on for the sermons and a video of the 10am mass.
Preached by Fr Bosco Peters.
I grew up as a teenager in Christchurch with this building as my neighbour. In the late 60s, Oxford Terrace continued to the Bridge of Remembrance, and there was a group of shops on this side of Oxford Terrace — you can see them in many older photos of St Michael's — and my family rented above one of those shops. It was a shop that made and repaired false teeth. In those days inner city living was for poorer people. Things have flipped, haven't they? It's funny how things swap around: once upon a time most people had a horse and only the wealthy had a car; now most people have a car and only the wealthy have a horse.
There's further surprising connections I have with this place. Christ's College, where I was chaplain for quarter of a century, was once located in the St Michael's vicarage which, in those days was on the corner where Jimmy's Smokehouse is now. The College was intended to be in the Square — copying Oxford, England, and the cathedral was to have been its chapel. But in 1856 they moved to where they are now. And people complained how far out of the city they were — there were so few ways to get across the river.
There was discussion about building this building in stone. But in 1869 there was a magnitude 5 quake centred in the Addington — Spreydon area and the architect realised that stone wasn't stable in an earthquake. A stone Anglican Church on Hereford Street had been badly damaged. Julius von Haast was one of the people who gave scientific information that led to the parish decision to build this building in wood.–
And so this morning we enter this magnificent building. I don't know if you've noticed that the game hopscotch is based on a church layout: We come into this cross—shaped space and then turn around to head back out again. That is our journey of life: we Christians come inside Christ's cross — that is where we are now, inside the cross, and then in our journey in this place we turn — we are converted, that's the Latin origin of the word convert, to turn. Inside this cross of Christ we turn, we are converted, and then, as in hopscotch, we head back out into God's world.
And so, having come in, we sit and stand in the nave. Nave is a word clearly connected to our word "navy" — with the roof on our nave, in Jesus' upside—down world, clearly a boat.
Even our word aisles connects — aisles comes from the Latin for wings. Ancient people saw the up and down strokes of the oars on either side of the boat as wings — they spoke of the ship flying forward.
From earliest days, we Christians have symbolised church as a ship. In the Mediterranean world of the early church, where roads were few — just like Maori, and the great Polynesian explorers of our Pacific Ocean — travel was usually better by sea than overland. The ship, then, is an obvious symbol for movement. A ship symbolises protection from the sea, and also venturing into the unknown. The Bible is full of ship and sea and water imagery all the way through Jesus choosing fishermen and Paul's journeys in the Acts of the Apostles.
So here we are, in Christ's boat — with the cross our mast; and with such a diversity of people in Christ's ship. Christ is our pilot. And the point of the metaphor is that we are moving, moving towards the world's destiny, and also to our fulfilment as individuals.
Our church building, our ship sails east — we are orientated — the word orient means east. We are orientated, sailing towards the dawning of eternal bliss.
And then Jesus in our reading today challenges all this — all this. People often call today's story Jesus' "cleansing the Temple." That makes it sound like Jesus is tidying up; purifying it by removing things that shouldn't be there. Such an interpretation assumes that the money—changers and dove—sellers didn't belong in those courtyards. Actually, there's no way that the Temple could function without them. You needed to change the money with Caesar’s head on it to temple money — you couldn't have a graven image of a false god in the temple. And you needed doves for the poor who couldn't afford a lamb to sacrifice.
We often assume that the Bible presents one single, clear thread. And in that view, God wanted the temple built.
But remember Solomon had built his temple on the backs of the poor, as kings tend to do. Herod, the so—called "Great", had massively expanded the Temple in Jesus' day — an exercise that benefited the rich and powerful.
The Bible is NOT unanimous that Israel should have a temple, nor — for that matter — that it should have a king.
Prophets like Isaiah were NOT fully paid up members of the Society for the Preservation of the Temple. In fact the reverse. And Jesus stands in the tradition of prophets like Isaiah — buildings and blood sacrifices are not what his focus is on. That's why Jesus says today: the Temple is finished.
So is there a way that we can hold to Jesus' challenge AND treasure our building? I think our catholic approach may hold a key.
In our catholic tradition, the general is always made specific, and the specific is there to help us with the general.
For example, in baptism God's love for all is focused on this one person, God's love becomes specifically focused on this one person we are baptising. The general is made specific.
And also — the specific helps form us for the general. In communion, this bread and wine, these created things become holy, sacred, to help us to learn to treat all things as holy, as sacred.
What we do in here is like a rehearsal; what we do in this place is like a practice, like training. This place, this space is sacred — not over against other places, no, the opposite: we hold this place, this building, as sacred so that we learn to hold and treat every place as sacred.
And so we come to the heart of Jesus' message: in this building, the ultimate importance is how we treat each other. The Rule of St Benedict, by which I try to live my life, calls the monastery a “school for the service of Christ.” I think that is what parish life is a “school for the service of Christ” — we are here to learn, to practice, to rehearse — for out there. We need to treat each other, every single person in this building, the ones we love, the ones we dislike, we need to treat each one as God's deeply—loved child, as holy, as sacred. This building is our school house so that from here we go out and treat every person out there that way.
Preached by Fr Peter Williams.
We have heard it said in Christchurch many times in the last decade, and we have probably said it ourselves, as we have thought about the destruction around us. “Buildings don’t matter, people do.” Of course in any humane scale of values that is true. But as we think about it a bit more, it is not quite true. Perhaps when we think about it more, we might want to say “People matter, therefore buildings matter too.”
All of this is grist for the mill, as people have argued on about our city’s two cathedrals, and now about our new Stadium, while around us is a serious housing crisis. And it is to the point as we celebrate this day, the 150th anniversary of the opening of this lovely building, dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, and 166 years since the previous building was dedicated, also to St Michael and All Angels.
For most of us buildings are not “just buildings”. Our relationships with the buildings in our lives are deeper and more complex than many would imagine. Most of us long for a place that is “home”. When we have a home we may take it for granted, but when it is taken from us we notice it very much. In some of the distressing stories of near homeless people in our city, we see that power of that. And people will diligently make any shelter into a home if that is all they have. We need a shelter that we can make and call home in a way that feels right to us. Otherwise we can be stressed to an extreme.
And communities are the same. Good community buildings give us a sense of wellbeing, and help to give greater substance to our sense of community.
Churches, sacred buildings, still have mana for most of us, much more than our overt secularism would suggest. They are landmarks in one way and another; physical landmarks, or perhaps landmarks in the sense that they represent and remind us of what is important for the community; landmarks of Christian faith and practice at the centre of the social value system. And they are often landmarks for events in our personal experience, which run very deep in us.
The grief that there has been in our neighbourhoods over damaged and demolished churches says something about that, something not to be dismissed lightly.
We are so fortunate that S. Michael’s has survived, largely because a 5.1 earthquake in early 1869 that warned the Parish of the dangers of masonry construction, and that led the architect to draw on the discarded structural designs for a timber cathedral, with which he was very familiar, and which now surround and protect us here.
The history of the building is one thing, but the miracle, is the story of the people who have used the building and made it their spiritual home. St Michael’s has stood as a landmark on these corners for 150 years and probably taken for granted by most. Even today, people come in who have passed it all their lives but only now been moved to enter. Even they may have a sense of belonging, somewhere between it belonging to them, and they belonging to it.
For those who have worshipped here and been shaped by the space and the liturgy, this place has a great hold. We have a considerable roll of parishioners who live in other parts of the country and the world, who still feel they are St Michael’s people.
I know how much this is a ‘holy place’ for me and for many people. Holy places do engage us and serve to remind us that all life, all space is holy, the place of God’s presence and action. I observe that in this country, many people close to the land (in work or recreation), and especially land in landscapes as ravishing as ours, are often already very aware of the miracle of creation of which they are a part, and which continually surrounds them, and that coming to acknowledge that in a church building is a bit of an anti-climax. As Solomon prayed “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built.”
But Church buildings are important because they are the much prayed-in gathering places of Christian communities. And communities show beliefs in action. If their ways of living are convincing, so their beliefs may begin to be noticed. The hope is that we and others may see signs of the living Christ, in the community that gathers together here week by week in his name. That we may have glimpses beyond what we are, to what we are becoming in Christ, as we gather together to listen to God’s word, and share the hospitality of his table. As we gather together to soak ourselves in the Christian story, and in the kindness and mercy of God.
It is about being a community of people who know that they have received the mercy of God; that all they are and all they have is God’s gift; that they are loved and forgiven and set free by God, who wants their good and the best for everyone. That is what Jesus Christ offers us, and brings us, and lives out among us. In him we offer our thanks and praise. That is what this celebration today and every day is about.
And so today we celebrate the dedication of this holy place in which we gather, in which many of the deepest and finest human things are brought together to honour the divine, and to be embraced in the wonderful mystery of faith.
As we come to the altar in this beautiful and holy place. We come with our gifts, above all the gift of ourselves, that simple heartfelt gift that we are, and bring it to the altar where in the Liturgy, Christ’s death is proclaimed until he comes again. Here we are associated with, even caught up in, the victory of Christ over evil and all that spoils human life. Here we taste the hope of something far greater, that we are already becoming a part of, as God’s kingdom comes in earth as in heaven. We come expecting that in all this, we shall encounter the joy of God’s holy presence, which passes all our understanding, and which leads us on the journey of the rest of our life.
Perhaps we too can say, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”