“Cathedral Renaissance- Rebirth, Renewal, Revival”
We meet on what has been the site of Christian worship for three and a half centuries and the Mother Church of our Diocese for 190 years. This building is the oldest Anglican Cathedral outside of the United Kingdom. Over the years, thousands of Christians have worshipped within these hallowed walls, men and women, for whom this place has been a meeting place with God. It is something to celebrate and to treasure as we worship under the theme of “Cathedral Renaissance- Rebirth, Renewal, Revival.”
The building of places of worship is not unique to the Judeo-Christian experience. Other world religions have built places of worship, equally magnificent in splendour that draw thousands, and millions of viewers annually. People visit cathedrals for various reasons; to worship, to pray, to listen to their music and choirs, to watch a drama production, to view their art work of sculpture, paintings, architecture (which are some of the finest in the world) to retrace history and to visit the shrines of the saints.
While I was a student at a United Church Theological College in Canada a popular activity on a Sunday evening was for the students to attend Choral Evensong at the Cathedral. Cathedrals have also been the backdrop for protests. One may remember in recent times protesters gathering on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. These sites are often seen as vantage points to gain media attention, as groups gather sometimes for prayer, and to bring to the nation’s attention various concerns that affect the well-being of people.
To me, for any renaissance: rebirth, renewal, revival to take place it has to begin with people. You and I, as the people of God. We must become the place where God dwells. The Apostle Paul writing to the Ephesians writes:
19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.* 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually* into a dwelling-place for God.
Paul, concerned about the unity of all Christians, paints this beautiful image of the church as a building where all Christians are bound together in unity, like the blocks of a building, becoming a dwelling place for God.
A dwelling place for God is a place of prayer – a relationship.
Many cathedrals give testimony to a time past, to the faith of past generations and individuals. On entering many cathedrals you are left with a sense of awe and wonder. The magnificence of such buildings has given people a sense of the divine presence, causing many to stop, reflect and connect with the ground of their being – God. It is amazing how – no matter the external noise – when one enters these buildings there is a hush, which invites us to commune with someone greater than ourselves. They invite us to become a dwelling place for God.
A dwelling for God speaks of a relationship with God. As the popular chorus goes “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary”. We must become a dwelling place for God; a temple of the Holy Spirit if true and lasting revival is to take place. When I reflect on much of the religious art work, architecture, music, hymns we have inherited they speak to me of persons who were inspired by God. Such creations were born out of a deep spirituality, a life of prayer, a relationship with God. Much of them summon us to be still and silent in the presence of the holy and to be one with the divine. Consciously or unconsciously we find ourselves in prayer, communicating with God. It is something of the Holy that has inspired thousands and millions of pilgrims yearly to visit some of the great Cathedrals of the world.
We must remain centres of worship, prayer. Cathedrals are built around prayer and by prayer – around a praying people. It is only through such a relationship with the creative Holy Spirit that people are inspired to create things to the glory of God. Any renewal, revival, rebirth, begins with God who makes all things new. So if there is to be a rebirth it will only come through a relationship with God and each other united in Christ as a dwelling place for God.
A dwelling place for God deserves the best we have, to reflect the glory of God.
Cathedrals are places of Common Prayer built to the honour and glory of God. Such edifices with their tall steeples, towers, spires and splendid domes, were designed to lift people’s eyes upwards to the skies. At one time, in many communities, the highest point was the steeple of the Church. Human beings through the centuries have been inspired by things around them, the creation, the heavens. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 19:1,
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament* proclaims his handiwork.
In the minds of Christians past, cathedrals, buildings of worship, should reflect the glory of God and inspire persons to lift their hearts to God. They should be places worthy of the King of the universe- Christ- the Lord of lords and King of kings. Rich and poor gave (in cash and labour) towards the erection of these edifices to the glory of God. Of course, one needs to keep a balance between the buildings and the places of abject poverty. Human beings have lived in poverty, sometimes side by side with magnificent cathedrals and church buildings. It is Kenneth Leech, one who has worked among the poor in Britain, who in his book ‘ Spirituality and Pastoral Care ‘, argues that the poor need in their midst things which inspire.
YHWH was the Lord, the true king. To Solomon was given the responsibility to build a house for the Lord. A temple that was so grand, beautiful and amazing that men and women came from far and wide to gaze upon it. (Chronicles) The temple was destroyed by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon around the years 587- 586 BC.
Years later, following the return of the exiles, and their settlement, the prophet Haggai challenged them to rebuild the temple (520BC).They had rebuilt their homes while the temple lay in ruin. For the prophet, this was, among other things, a sign of their neglect of God. They failed to give God priority in their lives. So Haggai [1:2–9] declares:
2Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house. 3Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 4Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 6You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. 7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 8Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord. 9The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
Structures and policies are often the projection and reflection of our minds and can also signal the place God occupies in our lives politically, economically, socially and culturally. Though, we note that some places of worship were built by the blood, sweat and tears of others through a religion that ignored the plight of those under slavery, colonialism and in socially deprived conditions.
The people of Judah were summoned to give of their best. All belonged to God and was to be used in God’s service.
Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:6-8)
Cathedrals tend to reflect the best that a nation, a people, had to offer in their time. God deserves our best in all that we do and give to his service and glory. If we are to be a dwelling for God then we must seek to give of our best in word and deed. Our lives must become what we hope our structures will reflect to the glory of God. When we seek to give God of our best in our daily life them we will contribute of our best to God.
The Renaissance was a period of the flowering of the arts, of great learning and advancement. Western civilization moved from the Medieval period to what may be referred to as the early modern period. That period has left an indelible mark on human development and the advance in science and technology.
Some cathedrals have been and are centres of learning. This Cathedral was part of the founding of the Cathedral High and Beckford and Smith High Schools which later amalgamated to form the now St. Jago High School.
A cathedral renaissance must be a movement forward not a looking back to recapture the past,’ the so called glory days’, which will not happen. It is a call to change, to a rebirth, to have a new vision under God. This is what Jesus called Nicodemus to, when he said that he must be reborn. The work of the Spirit revives, re-energises, taking what we have and are and inspiring it with new meaning and life, relevant to our time .
To be a dwelling place for God, the church is called to be the ‘Body of Christ’ in the world. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is a call to reach out in the name of God. Anglican worship has never been about escaping the harsh realities of the world. We retreat in prayer in order to be nourished and strengthened to face the challenges of the world with Christ as our leader. We retreat in order to advance in the power of the Spirit to influence the society for God, that the powers and authorities of this world will become subject to the rule of God in Christ.
God reaches out to human beings in love through Jesus Christ. Cathedrals are generally found in the major cities of the world. Spanish Town, we know, was the first capital and city of Jamaica. In the lives of nations the proximity of the cathedral to the parliament and palace, at worst, has been a symbol of collusion for evil between throne and altar, the state and religion; seen in the plot to crucify Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
At best, it has been a symbol of the church being at the centre, the cutting edge of life, where it matters, where decisions are made influencing the political, social, economic and cultural life of a nation. The church needs to be there as the prophetic voice and moral consciousness of a nation. We need to be in the gap, especially for the voiceless and the marginalised. As is the case in many parts of the world, through cathedrals, the church, offers a ministry to all in the city where life is most complex, to rich and poor, to royalty and peasant, to the throng and to the individual. By this the church is being true to the Incarnation, of God becoming human and entering into the affairs of human kind in the person of Jesus Christ and to her belief that Christ is the King and Lord of the universe.
As the mother church of our Diocese, where the seat of learning, the Bishop’s cathedra, is I want to challenge all of us with responsibility. The Cathedral should begin to think how it can pioneer, give leadership, new meaning and direction, not only to the community, but to the Diocese, as mother church. It should seek to be the standard bearer to which we all will aspire as we seek to move forward as a Diocese. The Cathedral must seek to bring together the best we have in culture, art, drama, music and song to offer in our worship of God.
For any Renaissance to take place,
We must become a centre of prayer, every Anglican strengthening their relationship with Christ through word and sacrament.
We must be a people who seek to offer God our best, that the things we do and say, our places of worship will truly become and reflect the glory of God.
We must reach out, touching the lives of the community, of the nation and the Diocese in the name of Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords. Then we will, I believe, begin to see a true Renaissance, a Rebirth, Renewal, Revival of this Cathedral.