If these walls could speak

All Saints – 2016

The 150th Anniversary of All Saints, Marburg

Luke 6:20-31

Marian Free

In the name of God whom we are privileged to serve. Amen.

 

In our day of thanksgiving one psalm let us offer

for the saints who before us have found their reward;

when the shadow of death fell upon them, we sorrowed,

but now we rejoice that they rest in the Lord.

 

In the morning of life, and at noon, and at even,

he called them away from our worship below;

but not till his love, at the font and the altar,

had girt them with grace for the way they should go.

 

These stones that have echoed their praises are holy,

and dear is the ground where their feet have once trod;

yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims,

and still they were seeking the city of God.

 

Sing praise, then, for all who here sought and here found him,

whose journey is ended, whose perils are past:

they believed in the Light; and its glory is round them,

where the clouds of earth’s sorrow are lifted at last.

Words: William Henry Draper, 1894

Music: St. Catherine’s Court (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxV3fOrCwsQ)

 

I had never heard this hymn until Monday and then I was completely captivated by the third verse. “These stones that have echoed their praises are holy.” In this context we would sing “These timbers that have absorbed their praises are holy.” I am reminded of a story that the priest who was our post-ordination trainer told. The story related to his time as a Parish Priest in Canberra. Once a week on cold winter mornings, he would rise early and rug himself up to celebrate communion with a congregation of one. On one particularly cold morning, this priest finally plucked up the courage to ask whether the elderly woman (for that was who faithfully got herself out of bed each week) felt that it was time to abandon the practice. Didn’t she feel lonely he wondered. “Oh no”, she replied. “I am never alone. I am surrounded by all the saints who have worshipped here before me.”

On a day such as this, we are made acutely aware of the 150 years of saints who have gone before us and whose praises have over that time have sunk into the very fabric of this building and into the fabric of our faith lives, saints whose names have been synonymous with this church and this community. Saints who may not have met the standards of holiness demanded by Rome, but whose faithfulness and loyalty would never have been doubted. There have been saints who have made us laugh and others who have made us cringe and there have been saints who have put the fear of God into us and others whose high standards we were afraid that we could never meet.

One hundred and fifty years of saints worshipping at All Saints! What an amazing achievement. Apart from anything else it makes this worshipping community one of the longest-serving Anglican communities in Brisbane.

Imagine the stories these walls could tell – of suffering and despair of jubilation and laughter. For a century and a half, Anglicans in this community have supported each other through good times and bad, on joyous occasions and when grief seemed unbearable. Together they will have endured two world wars and two depressions. They will have watched as the young people made lives for themselves elsewhere and as the highway gouged out a path through the church grounds, making worship impossible for a considerable time. The saints of All Saints will have encouraged and supported a constant stream of clergy, leaving them richer for their experience in this place.

These walls have witnessed so many wonderful events and they hold the memories of all the saints who have ever worshipped here. If only they could speak we might learn much that would enrich and sustain our own faith journeys. We would learn how faith has sustained people in good times and in bad, how it helped them face adversity and reminded them to be grateful. If these walls could talk, they would share with us the faithfulness of members of this community that has kept this church and this hall beautifully maintained. If these walls could talk, we would be reminded that it is not just the deeply pious and obviously holy who are counted among the saints, but also the flawed and imperfect whose relationship with the risen Christ and whose confidence in the resurrection has earned them a place among the faithful.

The hymn with which we began carefully avoids extolling the “saints” or crediting them with extraordinary behaviour. It does not imply that there is some exalted standard that we have to reach in order to join their company. Instead the words remind us that what sets them apart is their understanding that they were strangers and pilgrims seeking the city of God.

That saints were a chosen few who stood out from the crowd was not the understanding of the earliest church. Paul, in addressing his congregations, refers to each one of them as “saints” (hagios or holy ones). We, with all those who have gone before us, are included among the saints – the vast majority of whom are people like you and I muddling their way through this life with the help of God, conscious that something greater and better awaits us at the end.

I suspect that few of us can claim the selflessness, courage and dedication of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Bishop Romero, but we are saints none the less. What distinguishes as saints is not that we are better than anyone else, or that we are more trusting or more worthy. What sets us apart is our awareness that we are pilgrims and strangers on earth and our knowledge that this life is not only temporary but that no matter how good it bears no resemblance to the life that is to come.

All the same, let us live our Christian journey, conscious that these walls that have witnessed so much, are likewise witness to our faith. Let us live in such a way that we will not be ashamed of the stories they will have to tell.

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