27 May 2012

The Fire of Pentecost in Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral seen through the gate behind Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Today has been the Day of Pentecost, the final hooray at the end of the Fifty Days of Easter. Tomorrow we return to Green as the liturgical colour for Ordinary Time, but this morning [Sunday 27 May 2012] there was an array of red in Lichfield Cathedral, in the colours of the chasubles and stoles of the altar party, the amices of the servers, and even in some of the clothing among the congregation – the choir members always wear red cassocks.

Very appropriately, the setting for the Eucharist was Victoria’s Missa dum complrentur dies Pentecostes. The president at the Eucharist was the Precentor, Canon Wealands Bell, and the preacher was the Chancellor and Acting Dean, Canon Pete Wilcox.

Pentecost is one of the great feasts in the calendar of the Church, and one of the great occasions in Lichfield Cathedral when the Saint Chad’s Gospel is used in the procession and for the Gospel reading.

This morning, the Gospel (John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15) was read by the cathedral curate, the Revd Nest Bateman, and Pete preached a wonderful sermon on the first Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-21), recalling that Pentecost is an inclusive feast, irrespective of ethnicity, gender or social background.

He noted how many times the words all and every are used in those three paragraphs in that New Testament reading: they were all together; the people in Jerusalem were from every nation under heaven; everyone heard in their own language, so that all were amazed and perplexed; Peter addresses all, promising that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, without regard to gender, age or social background; and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

He reminded us that pouring out is an image of overflowing that is so much freer and generous than small doses, as in medicine, or small measures, as in shots of whiskey. God’s generosity at Pentecost is lavish, risky and abundant in its generosity.

Later, after the distribution of the Eucharist, we were invited to move to the North Transept for anointing and the renewal of baptismal and confirmation vows – an appropriate liturgical decision when we had just celebrated being blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

As the altar party was processing to the West Door, singing Hymn 175, Come down, O love divine to the Vaughan Williams tune Down Ampney – named after the vicarage in Gloucestershire where the composer was born – the organ went silent in the middle of the last verse, and we could hear the fire alarms.

Having celebrated the arrival of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire, we were forced to depart from the cathedral because of a fire alarm, and we gathered in small groups on the lawn at the west end of the Cathedral Close. We never heard the organist, Martyn Rawles, play the voluntary, Bach’s Kimm’, heileger Geist.

Lichfield Cathedral and summer sunshine on Minster Pool (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Coffee in the College Hall was a time for meeting old friends, and even discussing the latest debates in the Church of England on the ordination of women to the episcopate.

There was time then for a short stroll along Minster Pool, to enjoy the reflections of the cathedral and the blue summer sky in the waters.

Later, Pete reflected that generous and lavish hospitality when he and his wife, Cathy Fox, invited us to lunch in their house on the north-west corner of the Cathedral Close.

There was time afterwards for another stroll in the sunshine through Vicars Close before returning along Beacon Street and Stafford Road to the Hedgehog.

With views out across the green and yellow Staffordshire countryside, this warm summer sunshine was perfect weather for a leisurely Sunday afternoon, sharing a pitcher of Pimms, talking about cricket, ... and rejoicing in the lavish and generous gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Vicars Close in the sunshine on the afternoon of Pentecost (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

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