30 November 2017

Does the Church clock stand for
those who die on our city streets?

The Church clock stands at ten to three … the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary in Grantchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In his poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,’ the Cambridge war poet asked:

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? … oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

In these lines, Rupert Brooke celebrates a place that first became popular in 1897, when a group of Cambridge students persuaded the owner of Orchard House to serve them tea in its apple orchard.

The poet later moved next door to the Old Vicarage in Grantchester, and while he was in Berlin in 1912, he wrote of his homesickness in this poem. The church close to the Orchard is the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary.

Today [30 November] is the Feast of Saint Andrew’s Day, and Saint Andrew is linked with both Advent, the beginning of the Church Year, and with the Mission of the Church, because Saint Andrew is the first-called of the Apostles and the patron saint of mission work.

Without mission there is no church, and without discipleship how can people live in the Advent hope, be prepared for the coming of Christ?

Last week, at my meetings in London and Birmingham with trustees, staff and volunteers from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and throughout my work with over the decades with mission agencies, I have constantly asked about the link between mission and the Church. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, church or mission?

Saint Andrew may not have realised that he was preparing for the coming of Christ. He was a fisherman, working the Lake of Galilee with his brother Simon Peter. But he was a disciple of Saint John the Baptist, and as we are reminded in the Advent readings, Saint John the Baptist was the forerunner, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

In hearing the call of Christ to follow him in the Fourth Gospel, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about his call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. Recognising his duty to bring others to Christ, he went to Peter and told him: ‘We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus’ (John 1: 41, 42).

Saint Andrew left behind the nets of yesterday. Getting caught up in the minutiae of commercial life and shopping the other day, I see they are selling cinnamon-flavoured hot cross buns – not just before Lent, but even before Advent.

Hot cross buns! At this time of the year? Hot cross buns with a sell-by and best-before date of yesterday, 29 November.

And yet there is a direct connection. In the end, this first Apostle’s life reached its climax when he met his death through crucifixion. He may have left behind no Gospel or Epistles, but Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, literally took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.

Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the Cross and the Resurrection. Mission and Church must always go together. And this morning Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, reminds us of this.

Twice during my strolls through London this year, in May [11 May 2017] and again last week [23 November 2017], between Liverpool Street Station and the USPG offices in Southwark, I have visited the Church of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street, one of the Wren churches in London and just two blocks south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Watching the news reports last night of people who have died in the winter cold on the streets of Dublin this week, I was reminded of how the Church of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe offers this prayer for people who have no shelter on the streets of London:

God of compassion,
your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus,
whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable
and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:
we hold before you those who are homeless and cold
especially in this bitter weather.
Draw near and comfort them in spirit
and bless those who work to provide them with shelter, food and friendship.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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