The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 22.15-22; Philippians 3.13b - 4.1
For almost the last ten years kids have been enjoying ‘Horrible Histories’ in books, on the television, even on the stage
Their author, Terry Deary, has cornered the market in telling history from the perspective of blood and gore, the horrible side of history, which children just seem to love. So they also love seeing one of the mediaeval roof bosses that are displayed either side of the font at the west end of this cathedral. Those bosses were once high above the heads of the congregation but each of them was there to tell a story. But one of them tells a horrible story.
The wood carver created a grotesque face, with a mouth, smiling and caught in the act of eating. But what’s being consumed is a person, his legs are dangling from the mouth of this horrible image.
When we get any group here for a tour I love asking them what they think it’s depicting. Occasionally someone gets it right – in fact it’s the devil consuming Judas. It was there on the ceiling of the nave to literally put the fear of God into the people worshipping where we worship, or more precisely to put the fear of the devil into them.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St Matthias and this is the First Evensong of that Feast. The Acts of the Apostles, at the very beginning of the account of the life of the apostolic, post-Ascension church, takes us into the dilemma that faced the eleven apostles. Judas was dead, one of the twelve whom Jesus had chosen to be the foundation stones of the church, the leaders of the new tribes of the new Israel.
Depending on which account you read, Judas, after betraying Jesus and realising the enormity of what he’d done, went and hanged himself, or burst open and all his guts came out. Either way it was horrible and fatal.
But that left a seat at the table. Jesus had chosen twelve and so twelve it had to be. But who could fill that gap left by Judas who, as in our roof boss, had been consumed by the devil?
Isaiah prophesises about this kind of event in our First Lesson when he writes
I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your post.
And then says of Eliakim
I will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand.
The eleven decided the only way that they could choose a new apostle was by lot but they were clear about who should be in the running. There was a simple person spec as we might describe it nowadays. It’s Peter who stands up and describes who they’re looking for
‘one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’
And of the two who fitted these criteria the lot fell on Matthias.
St Paul in writing to the Philippians in our Second Lesson speaks of the transforming power of God, who takes our horrible histories and
‘will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.’
This is the stuff of the kingdom of God. When we pray as a church over these ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost that ‘thy kingdom come’ we’re doing what those eleven did in the Upper Room, praying for the transforming power of God to come and make us the people he wants us to be.
The apostles could never forget the Judas experience and nor should they and nor should we – even good things can go wrong – but nothing stops God working, taking our horrible histories and transforming us through grace; and nothing stops the kingdom coming, on earth as it is in heaven.