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“O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm” – The Very Revd Dominic Barrington, Dean of York

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Title: O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm

Preacher: The Very Revd Dominic Barrington, Dean of York 

Date: 17 December 2023,  The Third Sunday of Advent


O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

On Thursday night, the Archbishop of York and I were amongst a group of thirty or forty people who gathered in the rather ugly surroundings of the lowest floor of the Sainsbury’s car park at Foss Bank, just a few minutes’ walk from here, outside Monk Bar.

The three of us were guests of York’s small Jewish community, which was celebrating the last night of Hannukah. And the choice of this ugly venue was very particular. If you are a local resident, you will know that this part of Foss Bank is known as Jewbury, and in the name is the clue. For pretty much exactly beneath this unattractive modern structure is the site of York’s medieval Jewish cemetery. And it was here that, in 1190, the last burials in the cemetery took place, when the 150 or so victims of one of the worst pogroms in medieval England, which took place just down the road at Clifford’s Tower, were hastily interred here.

And thus, on Thursday evening, Archbishop Stephen and I joined Rabbi Elisheva and members of her community, who, in her own words that night, gathered to bring hope in the darkness, by lighting 150 candles to mark those who were slaughtered over 800 years ago, and to give them what was probably the first liturgical memorial of their deaths, even as their successors in the York of today still come to terms with the global ripples of the events in southern Israel of 7th October.

And as we lit those candles, a particularly ugly reflection hit me. The simple truth that the terrible event of 1190 was committed by people who would have principally identified themselves… as being Christians.

O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

And yesterday, in the compound of the Holy Family Roman Catholic parish in Gaza City, an elderly woman and her grown-up daughter were shot dead, apparently as they attempted to cross the compound to a building that had a working toilet. The office of the Latin Patriach – the Catholic Archbishop in the Holy Land – alleges that this was a murder performed by an IDF sniper, without any warning of an attack of any kind. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents,” said a spokesman for the Archbishop.

Just one story of many that are now being told from within Gaza, as the vast majority of the world’s sovereign states vote at the UN for an immediate ceasefire – but a call ignored by the Israeli government, whose actions, to many people, now feel a disproportionate response to the events of October 7th.

O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

And, away from the horrors of murderous acts committed by members of the three great monotheistic faiths, the quickest glance at any newspaper or current affairs website will give us the inevitable reminder of the terrors of the Climate Emergency; of the ongoing war in Ukraine, temporarily overshadowed by the unfolding events in the Land which feels so very un-Holy at present; of the latest deaths in the central Mediterranean as asylum seekers gamble their very lives to reach the shores of Europe or Britain; of ambulance queues heralding yet another impending NHS winter crisis.

And so the great Advent cry goes up, O Adonai…come and deliver us with an outstretched arm. Is it any wonder that both our main services in this great cathedral today began with the words, Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness?

The challenge, of course, is two-fold. First of all, there is the overwhelming challenge of inadequacy. What can you or I do to bring peace to Gaza and Israel, or to Ukraine and Russia? What can ‘ordinary people’ do to change the world around them? And that is an enormous challenge – one which can feel impossible to answer.

And the second challenge is the one my colleague Catriona identified in her powerful sermon this morning, which is the challenge of hearing that beautiful plainsong cry to the one whom today we address as ‘O Adonai’ sung so exquisitely by our wonderful choir, while we enjoy this musical feast in what she so aptly called the ‘twinkly’ surroundings of this Christmas-tree filled Gothic masterpiece.

But the hard truth of Advent is unavoidable, despite the musical, liturgical and architectural beauty in which we find it cast this afternoon. The hard truth, as Jesus reminds his followers near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, is that it is not good enough to say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” unless we are prepared, as he put it so famously, “to do the will of my Father in heaven.” It is not enough for us to sing the great antiphons of Advent and cry, “O Adonai”, if we do not honour the one whom we address as Lord, by making our thoughts, our words, and our actions speak of the inbreaking Kingdom of God.

For throughout the many centuries of history contained within the pages of the Bible, and in every era ever since, many have made this cry, but dishonoured the one on whom they have called, and whether in 12th Century Jewbury or modern-day Gaza, too many skies have poured forth anything but the righteousness for which we pray each Advent.

So, today, let us remember that building that kingdom starts – incredibly – with us. With our conversations; with our economic choices when we reach for a purse or a wallet or a credit card; with the privilege we exercise when we approach a ballot box or write to a democratically elected politician; and in many other small ways that either build or which tear down that precious thing we call ‘community’. For, as one great Anglican last century remarked very truthfully,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

So today, and throughout our lives, when we pray that the one whom we address as, ‘My Lord’ (which is all that the Hebrew title Adonai means), when we pray that Adonai should, indeed, come ‘with an outstretched arm’, let us make sure we have played our part to make ready for what he will bring. Amen.

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