I attended an All Souls Eucharist, but did not stay the full course. It was the sermon what done it. A collection of unexamined clichés delivered in a sing-songy voice. I was not surprised. And the accompanying Faure Requiem I also tend to regard as clichéd these days, a victim of its cosy popularity and Classic FM promotion. But the sermon. It was not good. Laced with a liberal cleric’s references to the bereaved’s pain (grief no longer serving as a description, all inner distress is these days ‘pain’) and references to ‘those on the other side’. The delivery was sugary, the cadences of the sentimentalist, the preacher giving hints that they had never really experienced the horror of bereavement, or of the attachments and intimacies that give rise to it.
Come, ye thankful people, come, / Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, / Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide / For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come; / Raise the song of harvest home!
I was driving to the next village for the paper and some provisions when BBC R4 started its Harvest Festival Sunday Worship. I've always had a sense that the broadcasting of church services does not really work. To say its like overhearing other people having sex isn't quite the thing, but has a hint of it. In both cases, I'm happy for them, but don't wish to be an aural partner to the proceedings. And whereas the latter don't (usually) want you to hear, and are not addressing you as an attendant third party, the church gig is addressed to you. They are polite and welcoming, as if you were visiting their house.
Church services are alien events to the majority. The players in broadcast services tend to be keen to talk of welcome (fair enough of course) and also of the ever-present God with whom they are on intimate terms. A common ploy, I've noticed, is to talk of their church buildings as where 'prayer is valid' (cf. T. S. Eliot's Little Gidding) and where the very walls are saturated with it. The implied message is that God appears to be domiciled in churches, and one is left with the impression may not often venture out. But the Gospel is not concerned with what happens inside churches, but what one makes of life in light of the claims and accounts of the man Jesus. And when did you last hear a church service broadcast that featured intelligent, sharp accounts from faithful lay Christians about being the church beyond the building?
The thing about an epiphany* is that it always requires you to take a different route once you've had it. If it doesn't, it's not much of an epiphany. 'And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.' We speak of insights and such like rather casually, don't you think? An epiphany - a startling appearance of some truth - is far more likely to make - require of us - a change in direction.
* Epiphany. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany when the church celebrates the visit by the Wise Ones (indeterminate gender, non-specified number and not described in Matthew as Kings) to the newly born Jesus. It is taken to be how Christ is recognised by the Gentile world, by the outsiders and the marginals.