Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of opening the Sights and Sounds of Ripon. I suppose that could be a confusing statement if you didn’t know that the Sounds and Sights of Ripon is an annual event, organised by the My Neighbourhood team of the District Council. So, this is Harrogate Borough Council and Ripon’s community working together to celebrate and promote some of the attractions and positive dimensions of this ancient city through the My Neighbourhood initiative.
The Cathedral, Museums, Town Hall, Library, Market Square and Spa Gardens were all on show. As were many of the groups that are working to enhance the lives of local people: Police, Fire and Ambulance services; the Council for Voluntary Services; the organisation working to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse (IDAS); the group recruiting volunteers to sustain the library facility… and so on. In a sense, the heritage and charm of the city were visible for all to see, as were groups and activities that betrayed some of the positive values and characteristics of this community.
It is true for communities as much as for individuals, surely, that the essence of what we are is visible for all to see. Where there is goodness and beauty and light, they are visible. Where there are habits that could be judged to be morally ugly and dark, the reality becomes clear for all to see.
A community that is at one with itself, that is united and seeking to work together for the good of all will be seen to flourish. One that is divided by people at enmity with each other will fall. Or as Jesus puts it in this morning’s gospel, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.”
It was good to hear the positive comments yesterday that celebrated the Cathedral’s participation in this city event. We were seen to be united and supportive rather than aloof and separate. This was all because we had our bells ringing, the south west tower open for tours, children’s trails and craft activities and the ever-popular pop up café.
These activities relate to what we are doing in this 8am Prayer Book Communion, and with the later services at 9.30, 10.30, 12.30, 3.30 and 5.30, and with the worship that takes place in this Cathedral every day of the year. What we are as a worshipping community (or communities) needs to find expression in what we are as a serving community – within the city, across this vast rural region, and throughout the diocese.
At the beginning of our Epistle, Ephesians 5:1ff, we heard from St. Paul, “Be ye followers of God, as dear Children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…” The Epistle to the Ephesians is a wonderful letter, “The Queen of the Epistles.” The first three of its six chapters tell of the good news of the Gospel of Christ. For example, Ephesians 1:7, in the New Revised Standard Version, says, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood.” And at the end of Chapter 3, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Sublime!
The final three chapters then apply the good news of the gospel to the lives of those who would accept it – to disciples, Christians such as us.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” (Eph 4:1) And this morning, we are instructed that this includes walking in love, “as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us.” Surely, the sights and sounds of the Church should make it clear to the world, to those who would look on from a distance and to those who would visit, that we do walk and talk and live and show the love of God – which we have received so lavishly. This should influence how we are together – as the church community. It should make a difference to how we live day-by-day. People do notice!
“Walk in love, as Christ hath also loved us, and hath given himself for us…” In this season of Lent, as we move towards Passiontide and Holy Week, it is worth remembering that it does all depend on love. Creation itself was an act of divine love. God not giving up on Adam and Eve – and us! was and is an act of steadfast love. Christ’s suffering and death was an act of self-sacrificing love.
The worship and service of the Church – at their best – are acts of reciprocal love.
As I heard time and again yesterday, the city is delighted when the Cathedral is engaged and involved, when it is seen to care and connect. The world, then, does notice the sights and sounds of the Church. And what it should see and hear are reflections of the love of God. “Be ye followers of God, as dear Children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…”