Harvest Festival 6 October 2018
Revd Caroline Risdon, Assistant Priest
As we’ve celebrated the tercentenary of our church building and now enjoying the festival of Harvest, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about ‘old’ buildings. Not so much about the fact that they are old but about what they mean to us because of their permanence.
This version of the church is 300 years old but there has been a place of pilgrimage and prayer here since Alfege was martyred in 1012. The Feast of Dedication is older still. It is associated with a particular historical event- the rededication of the Jerusalem temple 165 years before Jesus was born.
At that time, a ruler called Antiochus ransacked the Temple in Jerusalem, stealing all of its wealth. But the worst thing Antiochus did, was to use one of the altars to make a sacrifice to Zeus. It meant that the Temple devoted to God had been desecrated. After Judas Maccabeus reclaimed the city of Jerusalem; the first thing he did was refurnish and rebuild the Temple. And then, in the Festival of Dedication, the altars were cleansed again for prayers to God.
It is a fascinating story but it is even more fascinating to know that one part of that ancient Temple remains - we call it the Western Wall. As some of you may remember, I was able to visit the Holy Land in February. Visiting the Western Wall was actually the only thing I desperately wanted to do- and it was hugely humbling to stand next to stones that have witnessed prayer and persecution; oppression and liberation over centuries. The stones are immense- easily coming up to my chest in height and being the same size in width. They are light coloured, smooth and cold to the touch, some of the edges are crumbling and a few hardy weeds emerge from place to place. While people mill about and chat in the plaza, there is quiet immediately in front of the wall where people are praying. And then there are the prayers - tiny pieces of paper squashed into even tinier spaces, filling every nook and cranny as far as the eye can see and the hand can reach.
This, I think comes to the heart of our celebrations today. Our church stands on ground made holy by the willing and generous sacrifice of St Alfege. But this place is also made holy by the thousands of pilgrims who have sought the still, small voice of God here. It is made holy by the beauty of the building, by the beauty of the music, by the beauty of the worship offered here. It is made holy by its’ very permanence. It is made holy because it is filled with us, the living stones.
And what is the link between the Holy ground of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Holy ground where Alfege died and our church stands? It is the deep root, the constant presence over millennia, of prayer and worship. That makes us the harvest of all the prayers and work of the generations that have gone before.
It has felt to me as though this church has been in a period of flourishing for a while now. That is good and precious and to be enjoyed. Our current Harvest is due in no small part to the enabling ministry of Chris, our vicar. And, of course, by the time we celebrate Harvest next year, things will have changed. Chris and Gill will have retired and our church will perhaps experience a season of drawing in, of quiet, as we await the completion of the Heart of Greenwich Place and People and project and the arrival of a new vicar. This change is part of the natural cycle of life, even if we fear it or try to avoid it.
And yet, the seeds that we sow now will be the Harvest in years to come. So what legacy would you like to leave? What will we gift the future generations who meet here? Not just an accessible entrance and more loos. But a place of prayer, a place of purpose, a place of peace.
It is the prophet Micah who implores us - God has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? May it be so.