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Our Foundation for the Future – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

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Title: Our Foundation for the Future

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Date:  30 April 2023  4.00pm

Readings: Ezra 3:1-13, Ephesians 2:11-end

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Whether we are building a home, or family, or career, whether we are building a relationship, a community, a church, a city or a whole new world- what do we use as a foundation for all of these new imaginings and creative constructions?

From what do we gain hope and inspiration and on what principles and values do we begin to build? Who gains most from our creations and what is the over-riding architectural vision which guides all of our plans? Even if you’ve never actually built a house, you will have ‘built up’ something.

You will probably know the story of the foolish man who builds his house on sand, and the wise man who builds his house on rock and you will know which of these houses withstands the floods and the rains as they rise and fall. You will have seen cityscapes change around you, as buildings come down, and new buildings appear; You might just have watched a few episodes of Grand Designs and gained an armchair insight into the reality of creating a house from the ground up.

What becomes clear as these new homes takes shape and the story of their creation unfolds, is that the vision for the build is based upon the promise of a potential way of life- a new beginning, a fresh start, a re-assessment of priorities and what’s really important. The building is a means to an end.

Open plan living is often quoted as an aspiration, kitchen-diners to bring families and friends together to entertain, play spaces, gardens, beautiful views, all these things shape the way we live, as much as we shape the building. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the best buildings, (and indeed we could say the same of the best cities and churches and families and communities), are places for human flourishing and life in all of its fullness. I think that is probably what we are all looking for.

When our forebears were creating this magnificent cathedral what were they imagining? What was shaping their vision? This place was built on a spiritual foundation which assumed that the worship of God was at the heart of life in this medieval city and worth the carpenters’, stonemasons’ and glaziers’ art to help lift our eyes heavenward. Look down from the sky upon this building and you will see it is built in the shape of a cross, a sign as to why this place exists and what this place is for.

Now, I don’t want to dwell on this, but around 50-60 years ago, surveys of the 197ft Central Tower of this Cathedral, revealed the 16,000 ton structure was gradually sinking under its own weight, due in part to poor foundations at its base. It’s ok now, so don’t worry! We’re pretty solid! Emergency work was carried out which involved lots of concrete and steel girders to shore up the foundations, evidence of which you can see in our undercroft. As the digging began to make right, the history of this place was uncovered in the remnants of Roman Barracks and Anglo Saxon cemeteries, which were hidden right below our feet. As time went on, this place had obviously been re-imagined for each new era in its history and vocation.

In our first reading from the Book of Ezra, we also hear of a new build, a new temple being built in Jerusalem, which causes both shouts of joy in praise of this new beginning, but also weeping as some of the elders who look on lament at the change that is coming and perhaps the realisation that we cannot simply stay the same forever.

For what city lasts forever? What building endures millennia without change and adaptation and the occasional re-build? Even the city in which we now find ourselves has evolved through Saxon, Viking and Roman influence, it is the same city but always a different city. As we’ve heard, this building in which we now sit has morphed through many different manifestations in its history, and it is still changing today, the limestone, the stained glass, the wood, all these things are not eternal and over time need to be maintained or made new, foundations need to be re-set and repaired. As the scaffolding constantly creeps around this building, this great cathedral is constantly changing and evolving.

As we live in a world of change and decay, we might consider the foundations on which we build, not only our cathedrals and cities but also our civilisations and societies. We might also consider the foundations on which we build our lives, what values and meaning systems live beyond the material things of this world? What remains constant and what comes with us as we age and change? What is important for human flourishing, and for our flourishing?

The Coronation that we all await, will not be the same service as it was in 1953, or 1937: I would be worried if it was, but as the Church of England liturgy was released yesterday, it is clear that the values, the essence, the meaning and the symbols of this Coronation remain true, but renewed for 2023 and the world that we live in today.  One of the hymns in the Coronation Service is ‘Christ is made the sure foundation’, which we will sing shortly, affirming Christ as the bedrock of this new reign.

 

Christ is made the sure foundation,

Christ the head and corner-stone,

chosen of the Lord, and precious,

binding all the church in one,

Holy Sion’s help for ever,

and her confidence alone.

 

St Paul reminds us that there is a constant in our lives, a foundation stone on which we can confidently build, a person upon whom we can rest our hopes and dreams and loves and our greatest imaginings. This person is Jesus Christ, the one who inspired this building, and it is he, by whom, and with whom and in whom, the Christian also builds their life and the world around them.

He is the ground bass of all the music we make, he is the constant when the world is changing, he is the firm foundation on which we can create our families, our communities, our churches, our cities, and remain in his steadfast love as things inevitably change around us. He is the one who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and transcends death and decay by rising from the dead, the temple of his body being made new on that glorious Easter morning over two thousand years ago.

We shall all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). We shall all be re-made, again and again, but the constancy and steadfast love of Christ will undergird and embrace our hearts and minds and souls. Rather than lamenting a receding past, through him, we can look to new futures. Through him we can build new creations and new traditions that witness to life in all of its abundance and fullness, as we long for it to be today.

We find ourselves once again in this season of resurrection: a season of new beginnings and new hope, and as we reaffirm that Christ is our foundation, what can we begin to re-build or re-new, what new things can we set in motion in the week ahead?  All we need do today, is put down that first foundation, that corner stone, Jesus Christ our Lord, for it is upon him that we can build new futures, and to him be glory forever. Amen.

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