Preached by the Dean of Chichester, theVery Revd Nicholas Frayling, at Evensong on Saturday 14th July 2012, the Friends’ Festival.
‘(Jesus) died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’
Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth are a powerful antidote to the despairing cry with which our first lesson concluded:
‘I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing but vanity…’
The reward, Paul reminds us, is the new creation which Jesus came to demonstrate in his words and his actions. He handed on to his followers the ministry of reconciliation, and declared that they must be ambassadors for Christ, first of all, themselves becoming reconciled to God.
It is a wonderful commission, and it reminds us that our calling as Christians, just like Israel of old, is a calling not so much to privilege as to service. This is a hard teaching, and it has always been difficult to grasp.
I am not well informed about the Friends of Winchester Cathedral, but if they are anything like their Chichester counterparts, this is a lesson which some have yet to take to heart, as I recently discovered.
Not long ago, my car was blocked in the Deanery Drive by a large car, almost touching the bumper, and with no sign of the driver. With some annoyance, I took a taxi to the Crematorium. When I returned, there was the lady owner, weighed down with Waitrose bags – a bit strange since the store has a splendid car park – but anyway, she gave me a cheery greeting.
I had never seen her before and remarked that she did not have permission to park in the Deanery Drive.
‘I’m a friend’, she replied imperiously.
‘Of whom?’ I asked.
‘Of the Dean, she replied, Dean Hussey.’
‘But he’s been dead for 40 years,’ I told her.
‘Well then, I’m a Friend of the Cathedral, if that’s any better, and surely that has its privileges?’
I leave the rest of the conversation to your imagination….
Cathedrals certainly need their friends, just as we human beings do, and they need ambassadors as well, not least because they – we – have a very good and important story to tell. Our Friends (with a capital ‘F’) play a vital role in sustaining the ministry and mission of our Cathedrals, and on a day like this it is right that we should thank God for them, and for all that you do for Winchester Cathedral. I am sure you always speak well of your Cathedral and all the work that is done here, because that is an important part of an ambassador’s role.
But we must remind ourselves that this is a service of worship, not a ‘knees-up’ (or whatever the Winchester equivalent might be) to celebrate the Friends of the Cathedral. It is an occasion to remind ourselves – if I may dare borrow a much over used and often misleading expression – ‘We are all in this together.’ We need to remember that ‘this’ is the ministry and mission of this place and the sustaining of its witness to the good news of Jesus Christ who has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation, and made us his ambassadors.
Jesus was at pains to remind his disciples that he did not call them servants but friends, because friends know their master’s wishes and carry them out loyally.
I was in hospital a few years ago recovering from surgery for cancer. One day the door of my room flew open and somebody came in whom I had not seen for over 20 years – a name on my Christmas Card List: I am sure you know how it is. He scooped me up out of my chair in a great bear hug.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked.
‘I’ve come to tell you how much our friendship means while you’re still alive and not just at your funeral!’
It was an unconventional greeting, and not helped by the fact that he pulled out two intravenous drips in his enthusiasm. But what a wonderful tonic! I felt enormously affirmed and appreciated, and it made all the difference to my recovery.
Is it fanciful to say that Cathedrals also need their friends? And if we, in the words of the old song, can say ‘Friends, what’d we do in the world without friends?’ might we not say the same about this Cathedral?
I hope this wonderful place will go from strength to strength, and that its ministry and mission will be sustained by true Friends who understand, in the words of Antoine de St Exupéry, that ‘(friendship) is not a matter of looking at each other, but of looking together in the same direction’. That direction, in which Winchester Cathedral has been pointing for 900 years, is towards the Cross of Jesus Christ, ‘so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’