Sermon: Team Service of Rededication, 21 July 2019, St Mary Magdalene

Readings 2 Corinthians 5.14-17; John 20.1-2, 11-18

Preacher Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark

I am very glad to be with you to give thanks for 800 years of worship in this House of Prayer, rededicated to the Glory of God with all three church communities of the Richmond Team Ministry coming together on this day of great celebration.  This Church building has been wonderfully transfigured with great imagination; though I am glad the Pulpit has survived the re-ordering!  I am very grateful to Wilma, your Team Rector and to the Clergy, Reader and Spa and Church Officers of the Team for inviting me and we are honoured to welcome the Mayor of Richmond.

It is particularly good that the names which are in the Parish Registers have been transcribed into a new 800th Anniversary Book and will be held in prayer day by day through the year.  Just as we are one body, the Body of Christ, sharing one bread, so we are one with all those who have gone before and all those who will come after us, those who have loved and served the Lord – together with those who are doing so and will do so in this place.   But there will be other celebrations too, many on a larger scale; for this eight hundred years of continuous Christian witness here in Richmond of which we are but the latest link in the chain needs to be celebrated properly. 

Today is the eve of the Feast of St Mary Magdalene so it is our Patronal or should I say Matronal Festival! The historic Chalices and Plate of the Parish in use today are a sign of the generations worshipping here, those who have shared the Cup of Life and without losing sight of the Gospel passage we have just heard, we rightly turn our thoughts to history.  Our ancient Parish Churches and many other historic institutions and places speak of the intertwining of faith and life in this nation. For nearly five years I have had the privilege of attending, fairly regularly, the House of Lords. Between the windows and high up in the Chamber are the statues of the eighteen witnesses to Magna Carta four years before this Church was founded.   Two of them are Bishops.  On his way back downstream from Runnymede one of them, Archbishop Stephen Langton, refounded St Mary’s Barnes, also in this Deanery, which on Monday evening will welcome a new Vicar, and Team Rector for the Barnes Team Ministry, The Revd James Hutchings. 

Before reaching Barnes Archbishop Stephen will have passed this bend in the river, site of a Saxon settlement then known as Shene.   Who is to say he did not gaze thoughtfully up the slope of what might even then have been known as Water Lane, and think what a good spot this would be for a Church?

Now wind the tape of history forward the better part of seven hundred years.

One of the treasures of Bishop’s House is a manuscript notebook kept by the then Diocesan Bishop, Dr Anthony Thorrold of Rochester. The Diocese of Rochester, in the 1880s, included most of what is now the Diocese of Southwark, which is how the book comes to be in my possession.  For good reason the leather covers are embossed with the word “PRIVATE” in block capitals!

This Parish, by now long established, the name changed to Richmond in honour of Henry VII’s ancestral home in Yorkshire, was also within Bishop Anthony’s diocese.  On 15th July 1881 he visited, and met the Incumbent, The Revd Charles Procter. Unlike many of the Parish Priests Bishop Anthony writes about, Charles Procter made a good impression, though still one he might have blushed to hear:

“A very important parish admirably and self-denyingly worked on rather extreme High Church lines, by a devoted, affectionate, and somewhat eccentric Vicar; as holy a man as I know.”

This is all the more remarkable because a year earlier the staunchly anti-ritualist Bishop Anthony had preached against Catholic forms of worship at St Paul’s Lorrimore Square, after which the congregation pelted his carriage with stones!   We may think our Church is riven with controversy today but I can reassure you that as yet nobody has thrown stones at my car!  

It is to Bishop Anthony’s great credit that he could recognise in the ritualist Charles Procter “as holy a man as I know.”  That spirit of being able to recognise and celebrate the good in those outwardly different from ourselves is something we need more of today.  

We do well therefore to learn from history.  Let us take the best from it, and resolve to speak well of each other across a wide spectrum of different convictions.  Let us cultivate the holiness of Charles Procter.  Let us see the good in others and be slow to throw stones as Scripture enjoins us. 

There is nothing new in this.  It is not complicated.  But it is a responsibility and it calls for an effort of will.

We are aware of this responsibility as we stand where Bishop Anthony Thorrold stood 138 years ago this month, on the spot past which Archbishop Stephen Langton was rowed in his barge, over eight hundred years and a month earlier in the Summer.  It is for us to take the story forwards. 

Firstly, I pay tribute to the spirit of generosity in this Parish, indeed in the Parishes of this Team, and salute your readiness to support the wider diocesan family especially those pockets of deprivation and need.

The Diocese of Southwark is indebted in many ways to Richmond.  Ruth Martin, who is acting as my Chaplain today, more usually serving as a Reader here, as you know serves with tremendous energy, skill and tenacity as Diocesan Secretary.  The Diocese is greatly blessed in its Finance Director, Tony Demby and Alan Saunders is currently the Chair of the Diocesan Board of Finance.  Anna Khan, another member of this Parish, has served with distinction for several years now as Chief Executive of Welcare, the family support charity founded by the wife of Bishop Anthony Thorrold’s successor, Edith Davidson.  Under Anna’s leadership Welcare is finding a new sense of purpose and energised engagement with families and young people in need and has recently had a very uplifting celebration of 125 years since Edith launched the founding charity.  

In mentioning those who have worked closely with me I in no way wish to eclipse others taking responsibility and playing a significant part in the life of this Parish.  By God’s Grace we each have a significant part to play in making God’s eternal purposes a lived reality here and now. 

For nearly three years now (the anniversary will fall on Thursday, and should be celebrated!) Mother Wilma Roest, your Parish Priest and Team Rector, has been a voice of calm, order and compassion, weaving all together cheerfully, for the good of all.  I value her ministry highly. I invite you to show our appreciation.

I express admiration for Wilma who has exercised ministry here at a time when history has taken a troubling turn.  In a recent gathering at Bishop’s House of Clergy who are nationals of other EU states I was distressed to hear the stories of those like Wilma who have served faithfully and well for many years in Holy Orders in the Church of England by Law Established, who have been on the receiving end of abuse, particularly on social media, simply through having been born in another part of Europe.  Let it not be so!  We are all one body, because we share one bread.  I am glad that Wilma is cherished and loved in this community of faith and I am ashamed of the behaviour of a few people of ill will.

And so from Richmond to our Gospel reading today! 

This Gospel passage from St John’s wonderful accounts of the Resurrection appearances of our Lord is such thrilling story, full of real human drama.  There is mystery as the women come to the tomb in the grey light of dawn and see the huge heavy stone rolled away.  There is bafflement and then sorrow as Mary Magdalene expresses the depth of her grief and incredulity that the body of the Lord whom she loved has been taken away, she knows not where.  There is the sudden dawning of impossible hope, as the risen Christ calls her by name, Mary. And she hears Jesus calling her, Mary, suddenly the scales fall from her eyes and everything falls into place, yet more amazingly. 

What I want us to focus on, though, is the end of this account – the moment when Mary Magdalene steps out as the Apostle to the Apostles.  Then and there, on that first Easter morning, she becomes the first to speak out the Easter Faith, declaring boldly to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” 

This is the faith once received, which we are called to proclaim afresh in our generation.  Others before us answered that call.  For twelve hundred years, spreading out around the Eastern Mediterranean and into Western Europe they spoke out: “I have seen the Lord.”  St Augustine came to Canterbury because he had seen the Lord.  Archbishop Stephen Langton, his successor, re-founded St Mary’s Barnes because he had seen the Lord and this Church has been proclaiming the eternal message now for 800 more years. And so by God’s Grace this will continue.

Bishop Anthony Thorrold was passionate in controversy and in friendship because he had seen the Lord.  Charles Procter, that holy man, cared for this Parish admirably and self-denyingly because he had seen the Lord.  Bishop Randall and Edith Davidson founded Welcare because they had seen the Lord in the faces of outcast girls and later boys as well and whole families. 

And so it has been handed on to us, as of first importance that Mary came to the tomb looking for the dead body of the Lord, and instead the living Lord found her.  That he is alive, Risen, Ascended, and Glorified, yet by the power of his Spirit present here among us, in the sorrows of those who weep, in the laughter of those who rejoice, and in the bread and wine which he has given us to eat and drink, is at the heart of our thanksgiving today. 

We have seen the Lord.  The Spirit gives us eyes to see, here in this ancient Church, and in the streets beyond, and makes us Easter People, because we have seen the Lord.   Let us live this out, our eyes open for signs of his presence, seeking his purposes for us, bold to carry them out, our Hearts on Fire, Loving God, Walking with Jesus, Led by the Spirit.  For we have seen the Lord. Amen.

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