Our celebration of the Feast of St Michael and All Angels was led this year by the Bishop of Christchurch, Peter Carrell, with a sermon delivered by Fr. John Fox.
The Mass setting was Schubert's Mass in G, performed by the Choir accompanied by a string orchestra to lead us in Schubert's Mass in G.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost Amen.
One of my favourite things to do, as University Chaplain is to watch conflicted students talk to me in my office. It’s like listening to talkback, with no filter. There are the students with complicated personal issues. The ones with family or romantic drama. The dear and clueless first years confused by University life. And most often, I can help with a dose of my granny’s rural Canterbury common sense. No, he shouldn’t treat you like that. Dump him. Yes, that deadline really should have been in your phone. No, I can’t cancel your parking ticket. Sure, let’s pray about that.
But increasingly, in my chaplaincy work with the young, the elderly and the disabled I hear from nihilists, young and old. I’ve been to Anglican school, I know all that God stuff. I am coming to die, Chaplain, and I don’t know where I’m going. Is this life all there is: we’re born, we grow, we reproduce, we eat, we rot. McDonald’s and golf, relationships and break ups, fights with family and a growing sense that something is missing. Meaning. Purpose. Lifted eyes. Spiritual realities.
Today, we celebrate the fact that our Faith is big, full of firey and soaring realities. The Ancient of Days, in firey flame and wheels, surrounded by the heavenly Host. The Angels and the Saints, crying Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. Conquest over evil and the pouring out of glory, and glory, and glory, til earth and sky and sea and dirt itself is holy.
We celebrate that we are not left by ourselves. That God keeps intervening, keeps interrupting, the mess human beings are making of the world, and ourselves.
He comes to us by the Holy Ghost at the beginning, breathing holiness into the world.
He comes to us in the Old Testament, in the incence and gold of the temple, surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim, in the fire and the blood of sacrifice.
He comes to the womb of Mary, by the message of an Angel, with wings as drifted snow, and eyes like flame.
He comes to guard and guide you, to wrap his arms around you, to share your vulnerability, entrusting you and surrounding you with protection and with aid. He is in the Manger born the King of Angels.
He comes present in His Sacred body and blood, surrounded by the Angels and the Saints, to this altar here and now.
And He will come to judge the world by fire, to crush evil finally, to chain Satan and by the might of Michael, Archangel to thrust down to hell all who stalk the world for the ruin of souls.
All of that, coming to meet you here and now.
All of that, coming to the altar every afternoon.
All of that, on our side.
We live surrounded by spiritual realities beyond our sight, and beyond our ken. We live in a universe which is personal, loved, willed and made, in an organised conspiracy to worship
God. And in our liturgy, we join with the Angels, offering the sacrifice of Praise. We join with the Saints, and with numberless infinities, in declaring Jesus King, and Lord, and God.
When we worship, we declare that we animals, we eaters, we breeders, we people who die, are also made for eternity, made also spiritual beings. We declare when we worship that our lives are significant, that we are fulfilling the ultimate purpose of human beings: to know and to love God.
The moment we begin to worship, we do some very unfashionable things.
First, that life is spiritual, that we are made for more than stuff, and more than sex, and more than simply our own tribe, and more than rotting in a hole. We declare that we tribal people can be Catholic, that limited people are transcendent, made for what is true, good and beautiful, made for God, in life, in death, and in life beyond death.
Second, we declare the identity of Jesus Christ: that HE, attested by the message of an Angel, is not a Marvel character sent to aid us, or a mildly interesting revolutionary, or the first ecoprophet, or the second ascended master, or a self help guru. He is the focus, the maker, the King of a whole world whose destiny is union with God: All the angels and the saints worship Him. And we, His creatures, kindle our altar lights, and polish our silver, and set out our best gifts, in celebration that He interrupts us: that Jesus Christ makes us awake to all the beauty and the goodness, and the wholeness and the light we’d otherwise miss: that He shall be our Salvation, set to rule in glory, in power and dominion. Father Andrewes puts it this way: He could have stayed in heaven, and given us leave to come to Him again. He could have come half way: but no, he chases after the seed of Abraham, he grabs us by the scruff of the neck, He becomes one with us—interrupting our darkness, our mess, our nothingness And with Him come His Angels are commissioned to offer us aid, and aid our hearing, to bring protection and glory at moments of great crisis, in life and in death, and even, though that is not certain, in the cleansing waters beyond death. God is present every time we frail children of Eve hear the Angel’s song, and repeat and receive it with joy, as Mary did.
There are many darknesses and difficulties in human life—so often human beings are tempted to be drowned by them, to hare off at a tangent, to forget God. John Keble, the father of the Oxford Movement, reminded his parish that it’s always easy to come to Catholic worship, to nod through the liturgy, to cut and paste from last year, to see the same people, creakingly hovering over the same things. The best of us are tempted to notice the organists squeaky shoe, or the dust on the lectern, or the presiding priest’s unfortunate taste in mustard clergy shirts, or the woman we’re furious with in the next pew. My placement parish, All Saints in Howick, spent an hour and forty five minutes debating the piece of green fishing line, left up by someone on the ceiling. Likewise, we are tempted to focus on material things, or emotional realities: loneliness, smallness, hunger, thirst, to be born, marry, grow and die prey to the poisonous practical atheism which relegates God to his hour and a half, and ignores him the rest of the week, living prey to burning hunger filled with almost everything but God. We are but dust. We all do that.
And that, dear people, is why we kindle lights. Why we chant the Psalms of our ancestors. Why we paint and polish, why we thunder the organ, and put on our best party clothes.
We pray that we might see our own lives with the eyes of Faith. That we may be interrupted by God. That we may lift up our eyes above the line of mortal sight, to join with the saints,
and the angels, to make our ordinary, biscuit eating, sweating, dappled with darkness lizard brain lives lives Holy and Sacred and full of grace. We lean on each other. We appeal to the loving heart and the prayers of our Lady, we take refuge under the cross, we ask Saint Michael and all Angels to fight through our darkness. We hush our souls, and medicine our hurts. We lift again the Consecrated Host. For praise and thanks and blessing, for mercy and for aid. We offer to Jesus the sacrifice He gave us.
And we thank God that we are not boundaried by what we can see.