Well Good Morning everybody on this the first Sunday of the Interregnum.
When Peter gave his final sermon at the Barn last Sunday, he used the various parables in St Matthew’s gospel Chapter 13 to give us advice and to present us with challenges for the interregnum. None of us know how long the interregnum will be for, but it will probably last for the rest of this year and well into next.
Peter reminded us that God cares for everyone and, through the Parable of the Mustard seed, encouraged us to make space for everyone and to continue to be welcoming to all. He used the parable of the Yeast to remind us to nurture potential and to look for future possibilities. He talked of the buried treasure to remind us to give everything up for a better outcome and the Pearl of Great price as a reminder to us to really think what we want to achieve during this very strange time. And finally, he used the parable of the net of good and bad fish to urge us to strive for excellence over the next few months. Never to think “Oh this will do” but to always do our absolute best for the church and for God.
We may be unique in that we are a joint benefice of two churches entering into a period without our own Vicar in the middle of what is still very definitely a global pandemic. Our two churches are wonderful much-loved places, but it is true that one of them lends itself to socially distanced Communion services more than the other. So even our spiritual homes present us with challenges at this present time.
The next few months will be lots of hard work for everyone – in particular the Church wardens and Irene and Guinevere in the parish office, but for lots of other people too. The pulling together and the imaginative thinking that will be needed to meet the challenges Peter has given us will involve us all in whatever way we can contribute. It will be a time of experimentation and compromise – sometimes things may not work as well as we expected and, sometimes, we may be surprised at how well things do work out. Some of us will have more roles than others, but all of us will have the role of praying for each other, for asking God’s blessings and guidance for our fellow members of these two churches. We will need to be tolerant, supportive, doing things together as they did in the very earliest days of the Church.
And one of the earliest experiments is this one – returning to Morning Prayer. It is only in fairly recent times that the services in the Church of England have become particularly focussed on the Eucharist, which of course is the central and pre-eminent service of the Church. But not so long ago many churches held Morning and Evening Prayer as a regular part of their worship. My grandfather, for example, who did not get confirmed until he was nearly eighty, attended Morning Prayer nearly every Sunday of his adult life.
We are using a modern version of Morning Prayer, but the practice of praying to God throughout the day has its origins in pre-Christian Worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus himself would have been familiar with regular prayer throughout the day in the Temple and perhaps some elements of this service might have been familiar to him during his life on earth. From at least the fifth century AD, and up until the reformation, the Christian round of worship in Monasteries and for clergy revolved around seven daily services throughout the day starting with Matins and ending with Compline in the evening and, on some occasions, with a night vigil as well.
When the original Book of Common Prayer was written in 1594 it was decided to combine the first three services of the day – Matins, Lauds and Prime into one service to be called Morning Prayer. The language of the liturgy may have been more archaic then, but the essence was not very different from what we are using today.
So, while we are experimenting, we are experimenting with a form of service that has had a prominent role in the history of our faith. It is a service to which all are welcome and in which all can participate fully. We may be a little out of our usual comfort zone for the moment, but I think it is a good start to striving for the best, being inclusive and looking to the future. And it is one step along the road of fulfilling the challenges Peter lay before us last week.
There is lots to do, there are many souls to feed, the fields are ripe for harvesting and we must not be found wanting. To refer to another parable that has always been important to me, let us not bury our talents, but make use of them to continue to build and develop our church community for the glory of our God – as Jesus, and it has to be said Peter, would wish us to do. Amen