Back to School Sunday

Sunday 1st September is “Back to School Sunday”, when we mark the start of the new school year with a special Family Service at St Peter’s, Elgin Avenue, at 11am. There is no Mass at St Mary Magdalene’s, as we combine the congregations for this service, celebrating our two church schools and giving thanks for the work of Christians in education.

Bishop Jonathan’s Sermon

Tonight we celebrate the abundant fruits of ten years of visionary thinking, meticulous planning and execution of the highest quality. Congratulations to Fr Henry and his team. And in so doing, we are also celebrating the successful accomplishment of that greatest of challenges: how to remain true to the ideals of founders and pioneers in hugely changed times. The principal architect of this magnificent building, G.E. Street, sometime Churchwarden of All Saints in Margaret Street, no doubt had many objectives and aspirations in mind as he contemplated his schemes and plans for this church, but one little detail speaks volumes. He was determined that there would be no pew rents here; all the seating in the House of God would be free, free for all the People of God. It was to be a church for the poor: the poor who are always our teachers. The realisation and the completion of the works undertaken here will ensure that this remains a place of worship, a place to inspire the heart and lift the soul to heaven, but also a place which is at the heart of the community, as it was always intended to be. The history of this church on your parish website describes it as having been ‘marooned’ after the post-war slum clearances; but now our prayer and our confident hope is that it will not be an island but a hub, with spokes radiating outwards to make numerous connections with local life – life which, in all its richness and diversity, is lived out here in the true Christian sense “in all its fullness.”  

A place of worship; a sermon in stone, to borrow Ruskin’s phrase, himself of course quoting Duke Senior’s vision in As You Like Itof not an urban but a rural paradise – but the phrase remains both resonant and fitting. In his notable essay ‘of the Atmosphere of a Church,’ Sir Ninian Comper, another of this church’s architects and designers – and what a roll call of names to conjure with who have built, adorned and beautified this place, and now new names are added to the roll – writes:

‘A church built with hands, as we are reminded at every Consecration and Dedication feast, is the outward expression here on earth of that spiritual Church built of living stones, the Bride of Christ, urbs beata Jerusalem, which stretches back to the foundation of the world and onwards to all eternity….To enter therefore a Christian church is to enter none other than the House of God, and the gate of Heaven.’Comper prefaces this passage with his exposition of the mass, the offering of this holy sacrifice in which we are now engaged, as the very heart and soul of the church building, its source, its purpose, its entire raison d’etre. He writes:

‘[A church] is the centre of Worship in every community of [those] who recognise Christ as the Pantokrator, the Almighty and Ruler and Creator of all things; at its altar is pleaded the daily sacrifice in complete union with the Church Triumphant in Heaven, of which He is the one and only Head, the High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech.’

This is heady stuff; it is all true, but expressed in words almost too intoxicating in their strength. But then Comper makes this wonderful, pithy observation:
‘There is then no such thing as a Protestant church. A church is of its very nature Catholic, embracing all things.’This surely could be the strapline for the mission statement for this church and congregation: – ‘Catholic, embracing all things.’ Our Scripture readings this evening fill in the detail. The Spirit of God comes upon the prophet in order that the oil of gladness might be poured out upon the poor, the broken hearted, the prisoner, those who mourn. When Jacob erects a pillar to mark the spot where the Lord God met him in a dream, and promised him that his descendants would fill the whole earth, he pours oil upon it. When we consecrate our altars, to offer (in Comper’s phrase) the daily sacrifice, we pour oil upon them. Oil for holy places and holy things. But oil too, the oil of gladness, for the poor of the Lord, for all who inherit the promise of the year of the Lord’s favour. In Jesus Christ, all the promises of which Isaiah speaks are fulfilled, and in the Gospel reading from St Matthew this evening Jesus Christ commissions his servants, his friends, to go out and bring in the harvest of those who will live in the light of His own coming and be drawn thereby into the Kingdom of God. It is as we know Christ and are known by him, as we share in his life by baptism and through the other sacraments of the Church, that we too can speak the prophet’s words which Our Lord Himself makes his own – ‘the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me.’
What a great thing has been done here. The offer – generous, expansive, and magnificent – which is made here is that of nothing less than life in all its fullness. The prophet Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the threshold of the temple, and the river brings life; just so did a river flow from Eden, divide into four, and water the regions of the earth before even Adam and Eve were made. This church and the Grand Junction (what a marvellous name) which adjoins it will surely bring life, life to this part of London and beyond. Henry James said of London that it was ‘magnificent:’ not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, but ‘magnificent.’ Lovers of London, among whom I count myself, might find his failure to find cheer here James’s problem and not London’s, but we sort of know what he meant. But, he said, still speaking of London, ‘the biggest aggregation of human life…the most complete compendium of humanity’ is here. What a canvas upon which to trace the outlines of a ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. What an adventure will surely unfold in this place.Today we celebrate St Anthony of Padua, the Evangelical Doctor, a saint hot on penitence, hot against heresy, and hot on compassion for all in need and love for the poor. At the end of this mass we shall offer him lilies, and pray for freedom from evil, the healing of sickness, and the gifts of peace and grace to strengthen us in our weakness. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles gathered in prayer with Mary the Mother of the Lord; the Holy Spirit who drove them out into every corner of the known world, on fire with the love of Jesus Christ and the message of This is heady stuff; it is all true, but expressed in words almost too intoxicating in their strength. But then Comper makes this wonderful, pithy observation:
‘There is then no such thing as a Protestant church. A church is of its very nature Catholic, embracing all things.’This surely could be the strapline for the mission statement for this church and congregation: – ‘Catholic, embracing all things.’ Our Scripture readings this evening fill in the detail. The Spirit of God comes upon the prophet in order that the oil of gladness might be poured out upon the poor, the broken hearted, the prisoner, those who mourn. When Jacob erects a pillar to mark the spot where the Lord God met him in a dream, and promised him that his descendants would fill the whole earth, he pours oil upon it. When we consecrate our altars, to offer (in Comper’s phrase) the daily sacrifice, we pour oil upon them. Oil for holy places and holy things. But oil too, the oil of gladness, for the poor of the Lord, for all who inherit the promise of the year of the Lord’s favour. In Jesus Christ, all the promises of which Isaiah speaks are fulfilled, and in the Gospel reading from St Matthew this evening Jesus Christ commissions his servants, his friends, to go out and bring in the harvest of those who will live in the light of His own coming and be drawn thereby into the Kingdom of God. It is as we know Christ and are known by him, as we share in his life by baptism and through the other sacraments of the Church, that we too can speak the prophet’s words which Our Lord Himself makes his own – ‘the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me.’
What a great thing has been done here. The offer – generous, expansive, and magnificent – which is made here is that of nothing less than life in all its fullness. The prophet Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the threshold of the temple, and the river brings life; just so did a river flow from Eden, divide into four, and water the regions of the earth before even Adam and 

His Gospel. Let us give the last words to St Anthony whose feast we keep, from a sermon which he preached on the Feast of Pentecost.

Let us speak, then, as the Holy Spirit gives us to speak, asking Him humbly and devoutly to pour out His grace, so that we may complete the days of Pentecost in the perfection of our five senses and in the observance of the Ten Commandments. May we be filled with the mighty wind of contrition, and be set afire with the fiery tongues of confession; so that, ablaze and alight in the splendour of the saints, we may be found fit to see God the Three and One. May He grant this who is God Three and One, blessed for ever and ever. Let every spirit say: Amen. Alleluia.

St Mary Magdalene Paddington, 13thJune 2019