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Sermon: Evensong 31st May 2015

Sunday 31st May 2015
Choral Evensong
Ezekiel 1:4-10, 22-28a
Revelation 4
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What takes your breath away?

The first note of a familiar piece of music catches our breath; the assurance of knowing what comes next, holds us afresh.   Perhaps we hold our breath as we listen to the unfolding themes of a piece we've never heard before; we anticipate the climactic moment; the final note reverberates then fades.

What is that takes your breath away?  Moments that live in our memory - tugging at our senses. Moments of encounter that make time stand still - leaving us in suspended animation. Moments of anticipation - fearful, hopeful, delightful.

Perhaps you recall a very youthful Tom Cruise in Top Gun: the sound track builds the rhythmic thud of the base line and synthesised melody. At the moment when arrogance and pretence are stripped away, the moment of falling in love, the lyrics take over:Turning and returning / to some secret place inside / watching in slow motion / as you turn around and say / take my breath away.

We can't describe a first kiss or a final breath; we can't express the assurance of a hug or the depth of an intimate friendship; we can't take others to the place evoked by a particular smell or taste or sound. We feel these things deeply. 

The poet and writer Maya Angelou said:  Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.  Some have criticised her for undervaluing the ordinary in favour of symphonic moments. Others hear those words as an invitation to treasure the ordinary; to savour it. In 'A Tour of Bones' Denise Inge encourages us to do this. In the face of death, she writes with delight that the beautiful brevity of this life throbs in me like an overgrown heartbeat

What is it that takes your breath away as the beautiful brevity of life wells up in us? As we pay attention to particular moments, perhaps we find stillness in the midst of the tumult of life.  Paying attention to those little things might expand our horizons; contemplating our smallness makes us aware of the mystery of the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Do we hear that heartbeat of love divine, all loves excelling?

In his poem 'Motet', Micheal O'Siadhail invites us to listen to the voices around us; to the webs of desire and fear; to the expanse of the cosmos; to the shame we harbour and defences we erect. He writes:

Turmoil of change, our slow renaissance.

All things share one breath. We listen:

clash and resolve, webs and layers of voices.

And which voice dominates or is it chaos?

My doubting earthling, tiny among the planets

does a lover of one voice hear more or less?

God's love pours out into the world in creation.  That love exceeds the infinities of space and time; it fills our inner most parts. God is unchangeable yet transforms all things. We are tiny human creatures sharing one breath. The breath of life is breathed into us by God at the beginning of all things.  As we listen, with deep attention we discover more of that love.  It winds its way into music and art, into our prayers and praises, into our gestures and imaginations. The love of God is the cantus firmus of all that is. It is the  melodic line around which our lives improvise a glorious polyphony in all we do and say. Practices of love are hard to sustain; worship is an opportunity to relearn that melody as we put God at the centre of our lives.

We come consciously into the presence of God who creates, redeems and saves us in and for love.  The cantor prays: O Lord, open thou our lips. The choir responds: and our mouth shall shew forth thy praise. We give glory to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning and as ever shall be, world without end. All our praises echo the heavenly song of Revelation:

Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is to come.

You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power,

for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

That is the cantus firmus. That is our melody. The God of love is alpha and omega, the beginning and end. We hear that voice of love reaching out to us in scripture - the psalms resound with God's faithfulness to us amidst the struggles of our human condition. We hear of that love made manifest in Jesus Christ - the light to lighten all people and the glory of the people of Israel.  We hear of that love worked out in human lives in the power of the Spirit, as we seek God's Kingdom of love and mercy.

If we love that one voice of love, the melodic fragments of our lives become a symphony of compassion: words and gestures that take us out of our comfort zone; showing care and concern. In worship we are confronted with the glory and holiness of God; in order that we might sing that enchanting song of love in our lives. Whatever tomorrow holds, every breath we take is an opportunity to speak and act in love: as we listen, as we encourage, as we forgive. The decisions we make in our work and relationships have the capacity to reflect that love. Sometimes it takes our breath away in delight; sometimes we catch our breath in pain. Here we feel those things deeply; and are held in love.

In worship our strength is renewed; we abide in his love. We draw near to listen, to be encouraged and forgiven. In worship our looking and seeking for God exceeds our imaginations; there may be moments when our breath is taken away - in silence, in wonder, in word, in harmony or resolution.  Perhaps we glimpse something of the glory of the LORD here in this space of light and sound, in the company of others or in the stillness of our hearts.

Like the prophet Ezekiel we look - and cannot describe or contain God: it is like a stormy wind... brightness... fire flashing... something like gleaming amber... they sparkled like burnished bronze... a sound of mighty waters... of thunder... a throne... like sapphire... something like human form... fire... splendour.. a rainbow...

God is glimpsed in all this; yet lies beyond.  All analogies and metaphors, images and words fall away. This says Ezekiel, was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

In his vision in Revelation, John too stretches language to convey the glory of God's presence: like jasper, cornelian, emerald or a sea of glass like crystal; like peals of thunder, flashes of lightening, like a voice. The voice of love that calls out to us.  In turning and returning we face God who is breath taking and life giving.

Trinity Sunday reminds us that God is not an equation to be solved; rather it is a celebration of the God who draws us into a communion of love.  A God, whose love gives us the stability we need to face our challenges and choices. God's love heals us that we might be agents of compassion. May the colour of heaven finds echoes in our lives; may our lives mirror a dynamic, generous self-giving love.  In the final stanza of Micheal's 'Motet':

Infinities of space and time. Melody fragments;

a music of compassion, noise of enchantment.

Among the inner parts something open,

something wild, a long rumour of wisdom

keeps winding into each tune: cantus firmus,

fierce vigil of contingency, love's congruence.