Jude 1-3, 17-25 – Sunday 25th October 2009 St Jude’s Randwick – Gods Space
Today is our patronal festival – St Jude’s Day. Actually St Jude’s day is the 28th but I’m sure he isn’t quibbling abut us being a couple of days early, after many years of being the ‘Forgotten Saint’, I am sure he is just happy to be remembered.
It must have been a difficult time for Jude Thaddeus, what with having the same name as Judas Iscariot and all. People got confused about whether he was the same person or not so didn‘t venerate him for many centuries. It was only if you were really desperate did you actually pray in his name. It was like; when all else fails go to St Jude. He was the Saint of last resort – the last chance saint.
In his letter St Jude implores Christians to hang on in the face of apostasy, heretical teachings and immoral practices. While he had wanted to write about salvation, he in fact was forced, by the prevailing attitude of some believers, to write about the breakdown of belief as he saw it and its impact on believers. It was desperate times. If Christians were to maintain their faith they were going to face great opposition. It was desperate times and often looked like a lost cause. Hence St Jude being called the ‘Saint of Lost or Hopeless Causes.”
Hopeless causes, hopeless cases. How easy it is to use the label hopeless, perhaps for your self, for some situation in your life; perhaps about someone else, perhaps about some situation. What does it feel like to feel hopeless, to be perceived as hopeless, to live in that dark space of recognition where you are only seen for not being seen and forgotten?
In the late 1920’s St Jude was seen as the Saint of choice for second-generation immigrant women in America. They had come to the land of opportunity with their parents, received an education and looked out on what appeared as an endless feast of opportunities. Yet they were caught between the possibilities education and economic freedom had brought them and the strict cultural and patriarchal traditions of their aging immigrant parents. Many were trapped in the space-in-between, just like many women of that era here in Australia were. St Jude, via a shrine to him in Chicago, allowed them to come together through letter writing and newsletters to share their sense of hopelessness and to help redefine their future. The saint of lost causes was their gathering point as they sought to create a better future for women.
While hopelessness is not a description of something but a space or a place in which we live and have our being, so is hope. Either one can become the space which contains us, while at the very same time, we contain it within us. It is what it signifies.
In a sense it says something about this church of St Jude here in Randwick Sydney. This church began its worship only 60 short years after the first free settlers came to our shores. Australia was a hostile environment populated by people with great courage and hope but also with, a similar level of trepidation. Building a church, any church would have been daunting but to build this church with its symbolic and metaphorical implications could have been deemed a hopeless cause, yet one full of hope.
Over the last few weeks, as I have contemplated my time here at St Jude’s, I have spent time sitting outside and inside the church building, walking the grounds, wandering the graveyard. In doing so I have thought a lot about the importance of space and place in medieval spirituality, the actual birth place of this building and its design.
19th century Victorian Gothic church architecture had its roots in, and mimicked, medieval church design, particularly that of the 13th century onwards.
Instead of the previous dark and dim churches, we begin to see churches rising high above the ground incorporating great space and inviting light in through spacious windows, often full of stain glass which provided a kaleidoscope of colours across the floors and walls of the building. It seemed to defy the experience of events such as the Black Plague and a desire to fill the space between hell and heaven, which was, in medieval cosmology, the space between what was beneath and what was above, with light and hope.
The medieval church building signified the transcendent presence of a God who contained the world and, at the same time, the church contained or confined that very same God within its walls. The building towered across the skyline speaking of the nature and presence of God in its boldness, its strength and its audacity. It was visible and heard. Bells spoke out of the presence of God amongst them and there was no doubt where he was. He was in the Church.
Across the road from here is boxing gym to which I go 2 or 3 times a week. Inside people punch and kick bags, sometimes they punch and kick each other. The lady who is one of the owners tho, can’t wait for Tuesday nights. Why? Because amongst the mayhem of her gym she listens to the bells being played here, at St Jude’s. It signifies for her the presence of God in Randwick and reminds her of who she is and who he is.
Within the walls of that medieval church you could encounter the transcendent God for he was immanent, present therein. The space inside formed by the high roofs, exposed beams and the progression of west to east spoke of the space that was the cosmos outside, a space which could overwhelm you with its sheer dimensions and mystery. Within the walls of the Church the design spoke of that same distance and closeness of God, that he is both contained by and contains us. That space became the place and the place, the space in which God dwelt.
It seems to me that as I have met in worship here, watched people who have lived in the shade of this church come after many years of absence for a funeral or a baptism, who have walked across the precinct or through the graveyard, that St Jude’s is God’s habitation in Randwick.
I regularly watch a middle aged couple push the lady’s elderly mother past this church, sometimes, if the church is open, they come in; other times they just sit outside as she looks at the church or touches the sandstone walls. For her this is a place of healing and hope, a place where God says I will be with you always and she takes that feeling with her as she faces another week relying on the care of others.
May I suggest, for each of us, that St Jude’s is the place that gathers God and we his people, bringing us into alignment and awareness of each other, and is the place where each holds the other in their soul.
We may look around from where we stand and wish many more of those who live in the vicinity were worshipping with us each day, yet there is a sense that they do. St Jude’s is the signifier of God, the representational space for those who walk past or live near, and in that sense becomes the place of faith for them. It is not just a heritage building or precinct or graveyard; it is not just a traditional worship space or liturgical practice, it’s not just an Anglican church; it is much more than that.
It is the presence of God within our lives, all our lives, even when those lives may seem hopeless or outside our walls. May it always be so and in the words of St Jude himself:
24Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.