Worship in Adversity
ChristChurch Cathedral is in ruins but it still worships with gusto. Which proves that the Church is much more than an edifice of stones and mortar; it’s a community of faith that seems to grow stronger in the face of adversity.
The weather was certainly adverse when the cathedral congregation gathered for eucharist this morning in the grounds of Fendalton Primary School. Up to 170 people – mostly cathedral regulars – huddled in a covered way between classrooms as an icy southerly rattled the plastic roofing and rustled service sheets. The altar linen was splendid, as always, and the chalices shone as high as a catholic mass – except that the candles waxed and waned with every gust. Never mind: there was light, and even laughter, as the community re-earthed itself in the Word of God and braced for challenges that lie ahead. In his welcome, Dean Peter Beck acknowledged “the terrible, terrible time” that Christchurch was enduring, but he also drew comfort from the unshakeable love of God that was so manifest in the wider community. “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,” we sang defiantly as the rain drummed overhead; “our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” So there! Psalm 8 might have been written for Christchurch: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.” Likewise the Gospel – Matthew 25: 31-41 – which was a stark reminder of the Christian response when life turns to custard. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing…”Notwithstanding the different context, the liturgy was classic cathedral, carried along by seven robed choirmen giving flight to Byrd’s Mass for three voices.And then it was Lynda Patterson’s turn , as Cathedral Theologian: “Act of God? Rubbish!” she said in reply to talk of judgement on the city. “I don’t for one second believe in the sort of God who doles out misery like gold stars in reverse. I don’t believe in God the tax accountant, who tots up a careful arithmetic of blame. “We have a God who believes in new life, life in all its fullness, and God is there among the rubble weeping with the lost.” Was she suggesting, then, that there’s no such thing as an act of God? Not a bit. An act of God, she blasted, was what people do in the face of need. Feeding the hungry, opening doors to strangers, looking after the sick… “Faith isn’t something you can fall into like a soft job, without getting your hands dirty. It takes muscle and guts. It’s that kind of faith that builds and rebuilds communities.” “Amen, “ said several in the congregation, even before she’d signed off. The offertory hymn was “Be thou my vision.” And ever the pragmatist, Dean Peter apologised for improvised offertory bags “which can’t carry too much weight.” A gale of laughter suggested that the congregation had received the message, loud and clear. “Guide me O thou great Redeemer, pilgrim though this barren land,” we sang. Then deacon Spanky Moore cracked the whip and sent us out to love and serve.