Sermon by Fr James Heard, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 18 June 2017, Corpus Christi with Sacrament of Healing.

Sermon by Fr James Heard, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 18 June 2017, Corpus Christi with Sacrament of Healing.

Our deep sadness and loss hangs with the smoke over our community in the wake of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower earlier this week. It has shaken us not just as residents of Kensington and London but as a nation. After the shock and numbness of the first day, feelings turned to anger at the fact that this could ever have happened and that’s entirely understandable.

In the coming days, an enquiry will ask questions that will need answering. Questions about the confusing regulation of building materials; whether the repeated electrical power surges in the weeks before the blaze played a part? Was there a gas problem? What about the lack of a sprinkler system and of having more than just one fire exit? There will be lessons to be learned and perhaps legislation to be passed.

In the middle of this tragedy, the response of the local community, and people from further afield, has been magnificent and at times overwhelming, in its generosity and sympathy. There have been people arriving from Wales, East Anglia, and the North of England with vans of goods, who simply wanted to help.  People left their homes and work to volunteer.  Builders stopped their work and came with their vans to transport goods. Taxi drivers ferried people backwards and forwards for no charge.

The deanery response was to ask churches to gather between 6-10 volunteers for two hour slots at St Clement’s Church centre. I signed us up for the 9-11pm slot on the first day and in the following two hours received over 30 calls, text messages, and emails offering to volunteer, for which we are very grateful. Since then many of you have also volunteered and continue to look for ways to help and support those affected. There is now a coordinated way of doing this [hold up poster].

When we were there on Wednesday evening, a group of Muslims from East London arrived after their Ramadan prayers with a huge van load to add to the collection of clothes, bedding, food, water, nappies, toiletries, even dog food.

Halal, vegan and other food was available the whole time. Taking a break to have some I was rather stunned by the quality of such large quantity of food. One of the volunteers told me: ‘Oh, that was prepared by Stella McCartney’s chef. We have Jamie Oliver’s team cooking supper this evening.’ Just amazing!

The bishop of Kensington cancelled most of his week’s engagements to be there, as did many clergy from not just this deanery but other parts of London. Following a TV interview Bishop Graham was stopped by a group who asked ‘Hey Father – Where is God?’

It’s an important question to reflect upon. What does our faith mean in such a context as we celebrate Corpus Christi today?

The great Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, described Christianity as the most materialist of all religions. He wasn’t referring to our culture’s acquisitive hunger for consumerist stuff, or that the material world is all there is. He was articulating the sense that personal spiritual experience is grounded in things that are available to all, and the material, the physical, can function as a door to the divine. We can experience something of the divine through music, art, poetry, creation. And in the Eucharist, mass, Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, (however we like to describe it), on this celebration of Corpus Christi, we may reflect upon this, as it were, ‘mystical materialism’.

Today the Eucharist has been celebrated in St Paul’s, our Cathedral Church. It will be received in homes, hospitals, prisons, slums, refugee camps, and college chapels.  And the Eucharist will be said in the churches around Grenfell Tower.

And the key point here is that as we receive this gift so our commitment to engage with our world is deepened.  What we have seen this week is that we’re not Christians who are so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use.

The sacred host is the gift we receive week by week in order that we might become who we are: the body of Christ. The Eucharistic food with which we are nourished changes us into people capable of forgetting our own needs for a moment. We become, as it were, ‘de-centred’, in order to find a spark of generosity that will feed and nourish those who cry out for their daily bread.

The meaning of the word ‘mass’, which traditionally comes at the end of the service - Ite missa es – is to be sent out. We, as the body of Christ, are sent out into our restless world. We are invited to be conduits of Christ’s compassion. And we don’t wait until we become perfect until we participate in this, of course. In fact, it is in and through our own brokenness that we can be expressions of God’s love in response to people’s fear, in response to people’s heartache, depression, anxiety, restlessness and of course, in response to the tragedy in North Kensington.

In the face of birth and death, disappointment and delight, work and isolation we gather to extend our hands to receive the bread of heaven.  In the intensity of these moments, all that we are is drawn into the heart of God; all that is involved in our lives – however dark, or broken or messy – all that is involved in our lives is gathered up, and by the gift of God’s love is transformed.

At the heart of the eucharist is the fact that however broken and messy our lives are, regardless of whether we feel we don’t deserve to be loved or served, the invitation is to come, ‘to sit down and eat’ as Herbert put it. Love’s transforming work gently woos us, and feeds us with the bread of life.

We are all equal at God’s table, we eat together, we receive together and once again we are transformed into Christ’s body on earth today. And it is this sharing that binds us together as a church, with all our differences, all of our brokenness but also with all of our gifts, and all our attempts to love and to grow as Christ’s body.

Returning to the question asked to the Bishop: ‘Where is God?’ This week, we have seen God in a profound way in the love, compassion and generosity to people – those of all faiths and none. We have seen God in those who work for the emergency services, in those who have volunteered, in those who have donated, in those who have stopped to listen to horrifically sad stories, and in those who have prayed. Nourished by God’s abiding presence, experiencing God within us, we are sent out this week and every week, to share God’s compassionate love to those most in need.

Julie Gittoes, Thursday 30th May 2013

Holland Park Benefice