A reflection by Canon Andy Delmege
If you sit in just the right place in the nave, find just the right blue seat, you can see an angel peaking around the edge of the scaffolding cover. He’s having heavenly fun. He’s had enough of being covered up while the restoration happens. I will leave you to discover where he is for yourselves later.
It’s obviously disruptive for us having the works done on the windows. We can’t see one of the main beauties of our building, we’ve less room, there is noise. I wonder what it would have been like to have been here in the early 1880’s when the Chancel was being extended. Or in one of the cathedrals in the Middle Ages during the continual building and rebuilding.
We have a chance to use the disruption to think about our building. To think about our worshipping here – week by week, day by day, or as a welcome visitor. To reflect on how this forms and deepens us in our faith and in our discipleship. Where we worship God, what we see or hear or are made to feel by the place will have an effect on us and our faith.
The purpose of the windows
This was one of the reasons the Burne-Jones windows were commissioned and designed. When the restored windows are unveiled, we will notice again that you can’t see two of the windows from the Nave. They were designed so that you came up to the High Altar at the East End. As you received Communion, the story of faith was unveiled before you – The Nativity, The Crucifixion, The Ascension.
Then you turned around and were confronted by The Last Judgement. Here is a challenge to listen and respond to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel on welcome and giving to those in need. We remember parables like the Sheep and the Goats, where the face of Jesus is revealed in those in need. A challenge to take our faith outside of the building and to live it out.
One of the reasons for the windows being so beautiful and so richly coloured is to show the contrast between what the world is now and what it is, can and will be in God’s Kingdom. They are a challenging foretaste of what is to come.
Burne-Jones wrote about the Last Judgement:
“If we believe that things as they are can be made better than they are, and in that faith set to work to help the betterment to the best of our ability however limited we are, and cannot help being children of the Kingdom … It is the ‘things as they are’ that is the touchstone -the trial – the Day of Judgement. ‘How do things as they are strike you?’ The question is as bald as an egg, but it is the egg out of which blessedness or unblessedness is everlastingly hatched for every living soul.
There’s a contrast. When we can see it again between the central dark ruined cityscape in the window and in all it represents. We can think of the world today, with it’s hunger, forced migration, climate disaster. This, alongside the intense beauty of Christ enthroned and the angels – what could be in the beauty of the kingdom.
How do we get there?
Today’s Gospel is clear. It offers us a map for our journey to the Kingdom. We should offer welcome and water to those in need, to the little ones of Christ. The windows are there to form us, to deepen and sharpen our discipleship.
They also make us look outside. We know this is a porous building – not (fortunately) in the sense of water pouring in, but light and sound. Sitting here, we will have a clear idea of what is happening in Cathedral Square, Pigeon Park, and the surrounding streets. When I sit in my stall, I’m treated to a view of the trees. I can see the shapes of branches and green of leaves through the South Aisle windows.
We are deeply connected to what goes on outside. We are challenged by this building and by our faith to relate, to connect ever more deeply. In the words of the novelist EM Forster “only connect”.
Connecting, but also living the values of love, of divine love outside in the world. We might think of the richness of feeding homeless and other hungry people under Burne-Jones’ Last Judgement Window. We think of the importance of our maintaining Cathedral Square for the people of our city. That with the privatisation of public space it is one of the few places you can spend time if you have no money to spend; that it is one of very few green spaces in the city centre – and we will be spending time on reflecting and working on the environment in a deeper and more focussed way in the next year as we continue to respond to the climate emergency.
We think of people coming into our building – for a warm in winter, to cool off in summer, as a place of peace and quiet – to reclaim that ancient Christian word – sanctuary.
We are formed and challenged by this building and it’s history. When you come to receive Communion in a few minutes, you will pause as you cross the Bishop Wilson Memorial in the floor next to me here. That memorial to remarkable forgiveness, reconciliation and healing after terrible torture and trauma. How does that affect our common life as the cathedral?
The challenges of becoming ever more deeply who we are and living out our vocation as a cathedral in this city centre. Time for welcome, time for the gentle offering of ourselves in love to others.