Trinity Sunday Sermon by Revd Joachim Foot, Sunday 30th May 2021

Holy Trinity 30/05

I thought about reading out one of the homilies in the 2nd book of homilies for you all this morning. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these. Article 35 of the 39 articles lists the collection of homilies as godly and wholesome Doctrine and encourages them to be read out by ministers diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people. They were originally written for priests with little or not theological training to ensure the correct teaching of doctrine throughout the Church of England.

There is one slight problem with reading them out to you now though. If I read one of the Homilies out, I doubt anyone, least of all me, would actually understand them, no matter how ‘diligently and distinctly’ I read them out! We’d also be here for hours, as they are very very long indeed.

Instead, I thought instead I’d give you a brief summary of Homily 9, in one line. Homily 9 is entitled:

Of Common Prayer and Sacraments in a Tongue Understood, and the basic gist of it is that:
Scripture and the Fathers teach us that in public worship and administering the sacraments no unknown language should be used.

The use of the English language was one of the primary motivations for Cranmer to create the BCP. The use of Latin, often extremely badly, by the Church was seen to be a stumbling block in the faith. I say badly, often priests were taught to read Latin without really fully comprehending it themselves. A fairly perilous state of affairs.

 

The introduction of English language services did not go down well everywhere. I am sure you are all familiar with the Rebell-yans an Lyver Pej-a-dow Keb-myn oh come on, you call yourselves Cornish? The Prayer book rebellion me ‘ansomes! The Prayer Book rebellion was all about language. The Cornish may not have been able to speak Latin, but it was a darn sight better than that there English they spoke over the Tamar.

The Prayer Book itself and the King James Bible are pretty well wholly responsible for the success of the English language in this country, as they set a standard form of English.

 

So, time for a little history lesson: when did the church of England begin?

Around the year 600, Augustine of Canterbury arrived in England and formed the Church. There had been Celtic Christianity before that, but Augustine’s arrival marks the beginning of the Church in England and is the main strand of Christianity in this country. The assertion of Papal supremacy is a relatively modern invention. The Church of England in that respect is not, and never has been a Protestant Church, it is rather a continuation of the historic English Church without the Pope in charge. The bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England, as Article 37 reminds us. The Church of England instead looks to the older tradition of the Church, which our Orthodox brethren have continued since the earliest times of autocephaly – self-government. Much of the Reformation itself was a re-assertion of independence against overbearing governance, and goes a long way to explaining the strength of independence of individual churches within the Church of England. Asserting independence against an overbearing government is a lesson we should continue to heed to today really! But I digress. 

The Book of Common Prayer in its current form is, I am sure you are aware, from 1662. The first Prayer Book was written in 1547 and revised in 1549, before being revised a few more times before 1662. The 100 year period was very much one of flux in the Church, and we returned to Rome in the interim under Queen Mary. It was not until 1662 after we’d finally got rid of Cromwell’s totalitarianism, Boris beware, that under Charles II the BCP took its current form. I say current form, most common form is more accurate, and we have been worshipping continuously in Churches across the country and indeed around the world for the past 359 years.

At the centre of the BCP and indeed of our faith, is an appeal to Holy Scripture. Much of the BCP is based around Scripture, I will read out Scriptural verses as we proceed, and in the Eucharist itself we recall the words of Christ in Scripture. The Scriptures informed by the Historic Fathers of the Church form the basis of our faith. We continually return to the Scriptures to be fed and nourished by them. Our Scripture reading today sums up what we need to know, simply that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

I confess to not being the biggest fan of the BCP. It is wonderful in many respects, but it is very much a 17th Century interpretation of liturgy. Our modern liturgies, well the good ones at least, recall older traditions within the Church hearkening back to a time much closer to the earliest Church and the Apostles. But, through the blessed Covid I have come to appreciate one thing more than anything else about the BCP. With all the delights of Zoom, and projection, and online whatnots, to be able to pick up a single book and know that it contains everything I need is a blessed relief. Cranmer certainly knew what he was doing in compiling one book for services. He returned to simplicity itself, much as the Scriptures constantly call us to. Simple liturgy that becomes familiar and can be written upon our hearts. We are immersed in Scripture, washed clean by it, that we can more fully understand God, ourselves and our neighbours.

The feast of the Holy Trinity itself, that God is somehow three in one, is not something, I think, to get confused about, but a mystery which we enter into. We read, mark and inwardly digest the Scriptures, and through that, the mysteries of God are made, at least in part, for a short time at least, clearer to the narrowness of our own vision. In simplicity itself, great complexity can be held more fully, more widely, more clearly than otherwise. So we return to the simplicity of the BCP, because in that, through the repetition of words familiar and loved, we can gain new insights into our Lord and Saviour, and the great mystery of God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

 


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