Festival of All Saints & All Souls
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
31 October 2021
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Because of them
Today we pause to acknowledge all of those who have gone before us in the faith.
Some of them are people from long ago.
Many of them are people from far away.
Others are people we have known; who we remember with love and appreciation.
It is because of them that we are who we are.
It is because of them that the faith has been passed across 2,000 years.
It is because of them that the faith is expressed in every human language, within every culture and across all parts of this world.
Had they been unfaithful, the faith would not have survived.
Had they forgotten the story of Jesus, it would no longer be told among us.
Had they not travelled far and wide, the faith would not be found in every part of the world.
Had they not been people of courage, the flame of faith may well have been extinguished.
Had they lost hope, how would we ever had heard the good news?
We walk in their footsteps, but also need to find our own path.
We carry the candle of faith in a very different world.
Our challenge is not so much to imitate them as to replicate them.
It is not that we do exactly what they did, but that we seek to achieve the same goal.
The mission remains the same, but the operation may be rather different.
A new legacy for those who come after us
In our own time we are also creating a legacy for those who will come after us. In time they will look back at these times in the life of the church, and they may wonder why we were so concerned about this issue or that, yet remained oblivious to something else which they find central to their concerns.
Just as we need not imitate those who went before us, so we cannot presume to imagine that those who come after us will keep doing things the way we do them now. And that is OK.
Our task is to be faithful here and now; encouraged by the past and open to the future.
Since 1842 Anglicans have been present in Grafton, seeking to serve God and their community.
At first our faith community had a simple timber chapel, just across the street and beside the Deanery. Forty years later work was underway to build this Cathedral, which was a remarkable project in a town of just 1,500 people.
Once upon a time this Cathedral was packed most Sundays and we had several services a day. Those days have long passed and we are still trying to find the best way to be Jesus people in this community at time when being “at church” does not matter to most of our family and friends.
In a way, the Cathedral itself is a parable, hinting at the challenge before us. We have much from the past for which we are grateful, but the way forward is not so easy to discern.
The heart of the matter
We cannot imagine what the church will be like in the years to come, but the heart of our faith and our mission remains the same even when expressed in different ways at different times:
Intentional – We are people who seek to follow Jesus with our eyes wide open. We are not drifting along with church life because it is the accepted thing that “everyone around here” does. No, we make a conscious choice to pay attention to faith, to seek God and to take the spiritual quest seriously.
Centred on Jesus – There are many ways to respond to God’s call on our lives. We accept and affirm the faithfulness of people in other spiritual traditions who are also intentional about their desire to say YES to God, however they understand that sacred reality. We especially acknowledge the faithfulness of Jews and Muslims, with whom we share so much yet differ so profoundly over just a few points. Yet for us, it is all about Jesus. For us, Jesus is the way that leads to God, and for us Jesus is God among us in human form. Emmanuel
Compassion – As we seek to follow Jesus, the hallmark will be compassion. It matters little whether we are right or wrong, if we fail to be compassionate. One classic text which captures this truth so well is found in 1 Corinthians, the great hymn to love.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [1 Cor 13:2]
That will be as true in the future as it is now, and ever has been in the past. If we fail to be people of compassion then we have nothing to offer the world.
Justice – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. (Matt 5:6). Or as the great Covenant Code we call the book of Deuteronomy expresses it: Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you. [Deut 16:20] The church has a prophetic role in society, whether it is welcomed or rejected. It is the work of God to defend the weak and speak for those without power. Those with power hate us doing that; mostly because in their heart of hearts they know we are right and they are on the wrong side of history.
Hope – we are not selling fire insurance for the next life, but we are affirming that in the end—as at the beginning— it is all about love. The love that brought our universe into existence will ensure that—in the end—what is right does prevail, life defeats death, the mighty are cast down from their seats, the hungry are fed, and the rich are indeed sent away empty. God turns everything upside down, and that is why we are people of hope even when it seems everything is so dark.
This is what we have learned from those who went before us.
This is the truth we seek to live in our everyday lives.
And this is the legacy we leave for those who will come after us.