Fr David's Sermon
6th April 2007
If you had gone to what is now Bank Side near Southwark Cathedral hundreds of years ago you would have found the stews Ė what we now know as brothels. Of course as respectable Christians we would not have visited such places. The only snag is that they were owned by the Church, by Bishops of Winchester and others. Ours is a compromised Church, slaves and prostitutes were once our property, once in our employ.
Go to that part of London today and amidst South bank poverty and decay you will find Tate Modern. The former power station has been turned into an art gallery, housing contemporary art. I went there a few weeks ago. I found it impressive if somewhat disorientating. The empty turbine hall has a cathedral like feel too it. The latest works of art make you think, even if you find them inaccessible. Some are weird like a video of an artistís little daughter reading from Wittgenstein, or a video installation that appeared to show the view from a car windscreen as it rolled over and over. Others were meant to draw you in, in contemplation, namely a series of red pictures. I could see that they might if you spent time with them.
What struck me most were the impact of the space and the reactions of the people visiting. I found my self getting disorientated because the escalators seemed to miss out floors. The images reflected modern life with its fears and anxieties, what the sociologists call alienation. People had a puzzled look echoing what I felt.
Every now and then there are spectacular views of St. Paulís Cathedral across the Thames, Londonís actual Cathedral, a monument to the Anglican perspective of Restoration England, the establishment at prayer. I was struck by the contrast between the two Ďcathedralsí Ė Tate Modern and St. Paulís. I was reminded of the biography of John Donne Iíve just finished. John Donne was Dean of Old St. Paulís and thereby an owner of one the brothels I mentioned earlier. The St. Paulís of his day was virtually derelict, used for the worship of God but also as a place of commerce, meeting and even as a public convenience. Outside was an open-air pulpit, St. Paulís cross, where Donne preached the Christian faith amidst all the ambiguities of his age.
The faith is still preached in the new rather sanitised St. Paulís, but in a less connected way. Tate Modern expresses the angst of modern life. There are references and illusions to faith including the Christian faith if you care to look, but in that Ďcathedralí Christ is not proclaimed. These are two cathedrals that express the disconnectedness of life, as most people now experience it, and the Christian faith.
Today we are engaged once again in the public proclamation of the Cross-, in our walk of witness, in our liturgy with itís reading of St. Johnís Passion. So powerful is that Gospel, that further comment weakens it. That I said, I cannot help reflecting that in our age that tries to restrict religion to the private sphere, religion is very much in the public sphere once again, not least in the tensions between secularism, Islam and Christianity. The crucifixion was a public event, the cross of Christ, demands to be proclaimed in public. How we explain it and understand it is still controversial Ė as recent comments by the Dean of St. Albans have shown. For now it is enough for us to stand and look save that I would like to leave you with one last thought. Just as the new Millennium bridge links my two Cathedrals, Tate Modern and St. Paulís so I believe the cross of Christ can link the confusion and alienation of modern life with the things of God.
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