Project Canterbury

The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Sermon 7. The People's Home

Preached at the Dedication of a Church


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

At the time when the prophet Haggai was writing, the chosen people had been for some time back from their captivity, living in the Promised Land once more; but they had only just been able, in the face of opposition from the jealous unbelievers around them, and. in spite of the lukewarmness of many within their own ranks, to rebuild the Temple which Nebuchadnezzar had thrown down. And even now that they have built it, when they look back behind those years of captivity, while there are some who shout for joy at the restoration, there are some too who weep for the glories of the old Temple as King Solomon had left it, and it is to these that the consolations of the prophet are addressed.

Our Church, too, has had its Babylonish captivity. Our temples, too, are long since desecrated, our sacred vessels turned into drinking cups, our altars broken [45/46] down and defaced. And we, like the Jews, are at last beginning to repair those ravages: we too are returning, in handfuls, it may be, and with backslidings and misgivings, to the Faith of our Fathers. We are trying to erect once more sanctuaries, as worthy as our opportunities will make them, for the God that dwelleth not in Temples made with hands. We looked around us last century, and saw what the prophet Haggai saw: "Ye eat, but ye have not enough, ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm: and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." Something was wrong, we all saw that, and we all started in a tremendous hurry setting it right each in a different way: but some of us knew, what Haggai knew, what was the source of all the disorders of our country. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of mine house that lieth waste. For more than fifty years we have been trying to rebuild the House, and we have felt the full weight of opposition from those around us: Sanballat has snarled at us from Westminster, and Tobiah the Ammonite has issued his warnings from the Privy Council. We too have had to work with the spade in one hand, and the sword in the other; we too have been delayed by dissensions among ourselves, by lapses and apostasies and scandals in the holy place. But we go on building.

And yet, as each new house of prayer arises to take the \ place of those we lost, three and a half centuries back, there is regret mingled with our exultation. Whatever the beauty and the dignity of churches such as this, it is difficult not to ask, Where is the glory of the former house? We have not the time, nor the wealth, nor the faith which built the old churches of England. And meanwhile, what has happened to those old churches i Still our cathedrals, for the most part, are used as museums, and lecture-halls, and opera-houses; still Westminster Abbey is given up to Erastianism, and deaneries and canonries are regarded as convenient places [46/47] for silencing the indiscretions of our more obtrusive modernists. And the religion of the Gospel is forced to take refuge in new structures which can only imitate at a distance the splendours of the old, in Farm Street, and Margaret Street, and St. Alban's Holborn.

And yet it was not so much the ruin of churches, the despoiling of shrines, the sacrilege done upon images of the Saviour and his saints, that harmed us at the Reformation. They might have swept our walls bare and pillaged our chancels, and broken down the carved work with axes and hammers, if only they had left us the Blessed Sacrament. But they banished the glory from the mercy-seat, they took away from us the living Manna, and left our ark with nothing to occupy it but the dead tables of the Law. That is our great loss. But thank God we have still the daily Mass. The shrine of St. Thomas must yet remain desecrated, Glastonbury must lie in ruins, but so long as there are bread and wine in the world, we cannot be deprived of the daily miracle of the Altar, the Body that was laid in the manger and hung on the Cross is still with us, in substance, unto the end of the world.

"I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." That is Haggai's message of consolation, that must be our consolation too. In this house, at any rate, the Heart that beats in the Eucharist will be ready day by day to regulate the wayward beating of our hearts, to quicken the flagging pulses of devotion, and calm the throbbing motions of earthly affection and desire. That is the greatest privilege of the Catholic Church; for what other nation is there, whose gods come near to it, as our God comes near to us under the sacred forms?

For we are not to treat St. Silas' as a lecture-room, or a variety theatre, or an opera-house. It is to be our home. We shall have our own pet corners, our own favourite objects of devotion; we shall not glare round us suspiciously on entering as if we expected an enemy in every pew; we shall not creak up the aisle on tiptoe [47/48] whenever there is a service going on, as if our life depended on nobody knowing we were there; we shall not treat the whole service as if it were a Swedish drill, insisting on always sitting or kneeling or standing according as the rest of the congregation is sitting or kneeling or standing. We shall please ourselves; and if we find that we derive most devotional profit from saying our beads while attending the Holy Mass, we shall say our beads, and not interrupt them, necessarily, to say the Holy, Holy, Holy with the priest, because of some vague and erroneous idea that it is the thing to do. The meaning of the word "Home" is the sort of place where you don't mind where you put your hat down in the hall, or what you do with your hands when you get into the drawing-room. Let us from the first make St. Silas' a homely place, the sort of place where you don't feel the least shame about sitting down during the Psalms, when standing will certainly ruin your devotions: where nobody worries about their Sunday best, and nobody keeps looking round to see what his neighbours are doing, as if it were any business of his.

Let it be a real home to us, full of memories and associations, of pictures and souvenirs of those friends who have left us behind, going off into a far country, where we hope one day to join them. Here we shall come--for in God's eyes we are still only children--to ask our Father's forgiveness when we have done wrong: great wrong, such as makes a barrier to hide us from his sight, or little acts of waywardness and disobedience which, mounting up, make us feel that we dare not meet him till we have first forestalled his anger with our tears, and asked our Mother to intercede for us with him. Here we shall gather at the Table, to receive day by day, or Sunday by Sunday, the children's Bread, which may not be given to the dogs.

And if the Church is our second home, it will seem to remind us of what, in the world's distractions, we so easily forget, that our true home is there, where in [48/49] thought and aspiration we can long, as the saints have always longed, to be; where the saints now are, the continuing City which hath foundations, the better country where there remaineth a rest for the people of God. For any Dedication Festival--you may see it in a moment from the hymns we sing to celebrate it--will have missed its mark if it fails to remind us of the New Jerusalem which Blessed John saw descending from heaven, of the Temple which needs no light from the sun, because the Lord God and the Lamb are the light thereof. There those, whose festival we are still keeping, stand before God day and night; there, strong in the power of those merits they won through the grace of Jesus in their pilgrimage, they pour out their intercessions for us, succouring the helpless, raising the fallen, strengthening them that stand. There the very Angels wonder at the mystery of our redemption, and veil their faces in worship before Mary, the great Mother of God. May he grant to us all, that as we are here gathered in his earthly Temple, so we may one day come before his presence in his heavenly Palace, and find there our home and our temple for all eternity.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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