Many thanks to all who contributed in any way to our celebrations on 30th July. You certainly helped to make it a day to remember. Among the contributors was the Archdeacon of Derby, who has kindly provided a transcript of the sermon he preached at the Sung Eucharist. It is printed here in place of the usual ‘vicar’s letter’ in the hope that it will be preserved for posterity – as were the sermons preached on the church’s tenth anniversary.
140th Anniversary of the Consecration of Holy Trinity, Wentworth
Jesus said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’ Matthew 21: v13
140 years ago tomorrow - 31 July 1877 - this magnificent church was consecrated by the Archbishop of York, William Thomson. It was one of 103 churches Thomson consecrated during his long and busy time in the archbishopric. I am not entirely sure, however, that he would have approved of what we are doing here this morning. A firm evangelical and a protégé of the great philanthropist the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, he was firmly opposed to what he and his age called ritualism - a Sung Eucharist might have been going a bit too far!
This building and its predecessor, like every parish church in the country, have stood at the centre of a community’s life for many years, knowing it's peaks and troughs as well as the humdrum every day round of Sunday services, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We sometimes underestimate the power of buildings like this to affect people at a deep, sometimes subconscious level. All people know the urge to be a better self and the regret when they fall short of this, and church buildings, and what goes on in and from them, can provide the physical, psychological and spiritual space in which people can ponder what that might mean for themselves and for others - what it might be to be more fully alive.
Much of the story here has, of course, been graphically and entertainingly told in Catherine Bailey’s book, Black Diamonds, which everybody who knew I was coming here, from my PA onwards, urged me to read.
Yet the mind’s eye is also taken back to earlier generations - to the first Earl of Strafford, Charles 1’s unfortunate first minister, and to your own Prime Minister, the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham. One wonders what the Rockingham Whigs and their chief theoretician, Edmund Burke, would have made of the crazy world of Brexit, Donald Trump and Islamic State - although that is probably not a proper subject for a sermon!
So, we have much to celebrate on this anniversary. Yet the gospel reading for today, the story of the Cleansing of the Temple, warns us, somewhat disconcertingly, not to be complacent, warns us that buildings like this can be misused:
‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’
It is interesting that the calendar of the Christian church does not include a feast of the Cleansing of the Temple. After all, the other events of what we know as Holy Week are firmly entrenched in the church - from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter Day. Why not have the Monday of Holy Week, say, as the feast of the Cleansing of the Temple?
Perhaps the reason is such a feast today would be a bit too close to home and force us to assess our priorities in a way which would not be comfortable. It is interesting to see the ways in which the episode of Jesus’ vigorous ejection of money changers and traders has been taken by Christians, from the justification of that peculiarly Christian virtue - or perhaps vice – of righteous indignation; to an attack on wealth creation, or the presence of gift shops in cathedrals. So the Cleansing of the Temple rests in decent ecclesiastical obscurity lest it become too threatening.
When he was Vicar of Wentworth in the 1950s, John Fenton began writing his commentary on St Matthew’s Gospel. Somewhat disappointingly, he does not say much about this passage, beyond some infuriating points about connections with Old Testament prophecy. But, if I may be permitted to inject a Derbyshire note, the former Bishop of Repton, Stephen Verney, wrote more creatively about the Cleansing of the Temple:
‘The temple,’ he writes, ‘is like our Westminster Abbey and House of Commons rolled into one, and it is as though a Welshman from Llandeilo (Bishop Stephen’s wife came from Llandeilo) arrived in London and drove all the tourist operators out of the Abbey and the journalists out of the House of Commons and said, ‘This is a place for pure religion and pure government.’ The Dean and Canons of Westminster would say, ‘But tourism is a part of modern life,’ and the headlines in the newspapers the next day would say, ‘This man is a threat to democracy.’ They would both be quite right. They would say to the Welshman, ‘Be reasonable!’ Look at how things are in the real world. The world is not, unfortunately, as you would like it to be.’
Be reasonable! The hard choices are always with us, as is our tendency to choose the easier option, particularly if it is going to be financially profitable.
But the point of this Cleansing of the Temple is that it is about not being prepared. Which is why in Luke’s account it comes after Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem, ‘If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes …. you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God!’ Jesus has entered the city, to the excited cheers of the Passover crowd, to begin the final crucial week of his ministry. But in the temple, as elsewhere, it is business as usual. People aren't bothered very much about what is happening - they have work to do - they haven't the time.
The traders and money-changers were simply doing their job, selling the wine, oil, salt, and birds reserved for sacrifice; changing Greek and Roman coins into the Jewish currency, in which the temple tax could alone be paid. And contrary to popular belief, this trading was tightly regulated and probably reasonably fair
But neither the traders, nor the money-changers, nor their customers are ready, are alert to what is happening. God is at work right under their noses, and they can't see it, they're not interested. This is what Jesus finds so difficult to cope with. It drives him to distraction.
And what of us? Amid our perfectly proper celebrations of this glorious building, are we alert to the living Christ at work among us, or is our gaze diverted by all the distractions of daily life, by well- established routines, and well-rehearsed presuppositions?
In his poem, ‘Mutations,’ the Irish writer Louis MacNeice has lines which aptly express the need for alert attentiveness to what is going on around us:
‘For every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.’
‘Surprises keep us living’, he goes on to say. The poem is likely to have been written late in 1941 or early in 1942, a period when MacNeice’s life was particularly affected by the unexpected. The death of his father, a new relationship with the woman who was to become his second wife, the uncertainties of life in wartime London, all proved disruptive of settled ways of thought and behaviour, bringing new opportunities and possibilities.
‘Surprises keep us living’ That might not be a bad summary of what we are about. For Jesus’s startling behaviour in cleansing the Temple is followed a few days later in Matthew’s Gospel by the greatest surprise of all - that death is followed by new life.