Sermon preached at the Eucharist, Christ the Servant, Stockwood, Bristol, 29 October 1972
[I am unable to source the poem quoted at the beginning – if any reader can help me, I would be grateful. – SJC]
In the beginning was the pain
Of water, and the scalding nerve
In the rotating muscle, the fierce tears
And the wet child
From the baptism of his mother.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void…
In the beginning was the Word…
Three accounts or, more accurately, impressions or experiences of how things started, and such expressions or revelations come about when men begin to wonder, “where did I come from? What am I here for? What’s the point of it all?” – and one of the ways his thoughts and meditations start off is to begin at the beginning. These three meditations begin with something happening. Something changed, something was done and something started, and finally something just was… something without a beginning or, presumably, an end.
The first one is a poem which tries to show that any kind of creative activity or making involves pain and trial and hardship, but when the product is brought about then the pain and suffering are forgotten in the happiness and satisfaction with the results.
This is like having a baby. What a thrill there is when the new baby arrives; joy fills the hearts of the parents. Anxiety and the memory of pain fade away.
A person might be knocking up a new cupboard for the bedroom. When the last screw is in place and the admiring family gather round, pleasure and achievement make the hammered thumb and the gritted teeth over the awkward bit of sawing fade into the background.
The second is, of course, the beginning of the Book of Genesis; and immediately it faces some people with a problem. They feel inclined to ask, “is it true?”
A simple answer to that is, “yes, of course it is.” But if I was asked, “is it true because it is the actual and historical account of how the world and the universe began?”, I would find it very difficult to say yes to that.
I would say that the Creation narrative in Genesis was really a way of trying to see how God fitted into the experience of man, into all the things he saw and felt and lived through around him. In this sense they are mythological. Now, it doesn’t mean that history is true, and therefore right, and that a myth is wrong because it didn’t happen. History is a record of what happens. Myths describe things that are so, in a way that they draw out the implications of history. For example, man and woman: biological and historical fact. Adam and Eve, Andy Capp and Alf Garnett: myth, because they draw out certain aspects or bits which are in each, in men and women, in you and me.
So the accounts of creation in Genesis are not, and were not meant to be scientific or historical accounts. The writers were more concerned with religious faith. They were concerned to show, in their own ways and to the people of their own time, that God was active in all things, in their way of life, in their dealings with each other and indeed in their very means of existence. The Genesis account tells of the majesty of God who speaks and things spring into being; it tells of the ordinless* of his working, and finally the profoundest thought, that man is made in the image of God! Right at the beginning of the Bible there is the insight that man is not a brute beast or a kind of half-demon, but with an essential beginning in God and a kind of restless and nervous energy of activity, until his end be in God as well.
[* This is what is in my father’s typescript; I am still trying to work out which word he meant. – SJC]
And so to the third account, that lovely, dignified, well-known but difficult passage of Saint John.
His words deliberately recall those of Genesis, yet he surpasses or even fulfils them. Christ was the Word, the Word of God, the command of God, the wisdom of God, by and through whom the world came into being, and by and through whom the world shall be finished, completed. Christ is both the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega. All things come from him and go to him.
The Word of God… God said let there be, let there be light, birds of the air, fishes of the sea, man. He didn’t need to take some lump of pre-existent and nameless stuff and make these things with it; it was enough to give the word of command.
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made… for he spoke and it was done, he commanded and it stood fast.
Thus for St John and the Christian, that creative Word of God is Christ. In Christ the intention of God in creation is fulfilled. For creation is an activity which involves work, and it is therefore supremely that Jesus Christ was a worker. He was born in a working class home, not into that of a statesman or king or philosophical thinker. Jesus was working class and a worker with his hands, a creator of material things.
This has the greatest significance for us, especially in our daily work, and especially when it seems humdrum and not really worthwhile.
When we are in Christ, we are remade in his creation, his new creation, and being in Christ we are helped to fulfil the intention of God’s creation, we are fellow workers with Christ, co-creators with God. When we have children, by divine grace and permission, we too create men in the image of God. The likeness of God in man becomes clearly visible as men become truly and properly creative. To be destructive goes only the other way – it mars the image, men become less and less men.
In creative workmanship men most truly share God’s creative activity; they become artists, scientists, craftsmen – either in ideas or material things or in loving relationships – something there for everyone, a chance there for everybody to be a creator and to share the joy of their work.
In the Communion Service, our work is strikingly relevant. The bread and wine are symbols of our work, expressed at the hands of farmers and vintners, and it is our work in the bread and wine that we offer to God. These are given back to us as food for our souls and bodies, the very life of God himself, the body and blood of Christ. Man’s offering, then, including his daily labour, is joined with the perfect offering of Christ and is made acceptable to God.
Perhaps you might like to look up the prayer for Monday in the Daily Office book. It runs:
Almighty God, Maker of all things and Father of all men, You have shown in Christ the purpose of your creation, and called us to responsible service in the world. May we delight in your purpose and work to bring all things to their true end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And perhaps the words which best sum up this address are very, very familiar:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Praise ye the Lord.