Holy Monday - Abiding in the Body

A sermon preached at St George's Campden Hill by Revd Ivo Morshead on 25 March 2013

Abide with me fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide..when other helpers fail  and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, Lord abide with me.

One of the best known and a favourite of many of us is   abide with me...Abiding is also the title of this year’s Lent book and so is the subject of these Holy Week addresses.

The word abiding is not used much now. We would say, that we live in London, not we abide in London. For to abide, whilst meaning, living in, is far deeper as illustrated in the relationship between the biblical character Ruth and her widowed mother in law Naomi. Famine had struck and Naomi was escaping to be with her relations in Bethlehem and wanted her two daughter in law to stay behind and let her go on her own. One daughter in law did stay but the other Ruth, said no, I will come with you Where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people and your God my God. ;( Ruth 1 v 16 and ) As Ben Quash, the author of this Lent Book comments on this passage, abiding, implies perseverance, it implies consistency and continuity yet also being open to change as is shown by the full story of Ruth and her staying, abiding with Naomi. Ben Quash also in every chapter links his theme to a holy person. In the case of Abiding in Body, the title of this 1st talk of Holy Week, his example is Benedict of Nursia, whose feast day is 11th July.

Benedict is a very relevant choice to have been made by Ben Quash  with the present Euro banking crisis as Benedict happens to be the  Patron Saint of Europe. Benedict would have found a similar turmoil in his world of the sixth century as people faced the collapse of the Roman Empire producing  tides of displaced people, plague, poverty  and a permanent threat of violence. His legacy amongst other things has been the rules that he produced at Monte Cassino for his band of monks, such rules as have been described as the oldest written constitution under which 20th century men and women are still living; His monks took three vows; OBEDIENCE, CONVERSION, STABILITY. Such vows were designed to ensure that monks would stay in the house in which they had made their profession. Ben Quash in his first chapter sets out how these vows are relevant to us today and sums them up in the word commitment. Commitment to Community, commitment to place, commitment to Education. In terms of abiding in the body.

Regarding Community. Margaret Thatcher is often quoted as saying in 1987 ‘there is no such thing as community’. What she actually said was there is no such thing as SOCIETY. Benedict reminds us in this Holy Week, in his teaching to his monks, is that there are always stresses and strains within any community. We know this all too well from our own Anglican Commune with the divisions and conflicts on women bishops, gender, form of service and of course difficult people, who can be such a nuisance. Abiding means living with and sticking with, just as Ruth did with Naomi, through thick and thin, good times and the difficult.

Regarding commitment to place. On travelling up the East coast on the non-stop York express train one is travelling too fast to see the names of the stations  but we do recognise the cathedrals at Peterborough, Grantham. They stand out for witness over the centuries to our faith in Jesus. Communities need a focus, that has always been the parish church building. We must think of our commitment to place.

Lastly Education; Our faith, like any living thing, must be fed. We must ask for a quota of  teaching sermons and listen to them. We must  review our knowledge and consider having some relevant book such as Bible Reading Fellowship notes or seek advice to help us to grow in wisdom in the religious sense.

The body is not just our own flesh and blood for we are all part of Christ’s Body on earth, namely the Church. As Scripture tells us the body has many parts all of which play their role to enable the proper functioning and fulfilment of the bodies purpose. May we reflect in these coming days on Abiding in the Body, the body of our community, of our church building, of the concept of gaining wisdom. May we be strengthened in the hopr that lies ahead as in the closing verse of  H F Lyte’s Hymn;

Heavens morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee. In life in death, O Lord, Abide with me.
Holland Park Benefice