Sermon on St Cuthbert

Preacher: Rev. Preb. Dr Brian Leathard, Rector, St Luke's & Christ Church, Chelsea

The Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St Cuthbert, Wednesday 4 September 2019
 
 
I was born in the shadow of Durham Cathedral, so being invited to preach this evening, gives me both great pride and fills me with humility­ the latter not always being my most obvious personality trait.

Durham Cathedral can't be ignored. It towers over the city, is seen from miles around, entrances the train traveller on the East Coast Mainline, and was for me, as a child, just part of my life, the building against which I measured all others. As well as Cuthbert's final resting place at the East end, it also contains the tomb of Bede at the west end. Its glorious Norman
architecture, including the deliberate mistake in one of its massive columns, reminding us that perfection lies only in God alone, would surely resonate with Cuthbert, as it did with the thousands of miners who annually filled the cathedral with their brass bands in the time of my childhood. Pilgrims still visit the shrine, and in visiting Cuthbert's shrine in this great
cathedral, my prayer would be for them, as it is for me a native of that city, that we may, as Cuthbert did, 'Bless the God of all,' who 'in every way does great things; who exalts our days from birth and deals with us accordinq to his mercy' ... As we
heard in our first reading.
​​​When Cuthbert's body was brought to Durham in 995 the Cathedral did not exist. Cuthbert's coffin lay first in a temporary church and then in the Anglo-Saxon 'White Church', which was begun in 996. 4th September has long been venerated as the anniversary of that enshrining
in 999 of the body of St Cuthbert in the original 'White Church' prior to the building of the present Cathedral.

The present cathedral was begun in 1093, after a community of Benedictine monks from Jarrow had been established to succeed the Anglo­-Saxon community which brought Cuthbert's body to this site. Eleven years later, as soon as the east end of the church was ready, a great and solemn festival was held to 'translate' Cuthbert's body into the new Cathedral. The Rites of Durham describes the ceremonies involved in Cuthbert's translations culminating in 1104:


". . . then ye buship beganne to worke, and buylde, & to make a mykle kirke of stone where it laid many year until he translated Sn cte Cuthb: body out [of the] white kirke into the great kyrke as sone as ye great kirke was hallowed to more worship then before."

And that of course is the point, that the translation of Cuthbert's body into what we now recognize as Durham cathedral, was not about aggrandisemnet of St Cuthbert, but about the greater worship of God, in the presence of all his saints, living and departed.


Cuthbert's circuitous journey to his resting place in Durham Cathedral, in the face of war, Viking invasion, political turmoil and public fear should, in the world we inhabit also teach us of the value of reliance upon the worship of God as the most central part of who we are, reflecting our God given gifts in the service of God and
our brothers and sisters. When therefore Matthew writes 'Watch therefore for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming ..... (but) you must be ready', how do we respond?


Cuthbert, in his years of both contemplation at Melrose, on Lindisfarne and then his isolation on Inner Farne, allowed him the space and capacity to be ready, by worship and reflection. But Cuthbert also teaches us that such reflective space and capacity needs to issue in action, as we remember his stewardship of the monasteries, communities, parishes, individuals, lands and fisheries under his care.


In looking at Cuthbert we find an example of the one who is the 'faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time' -  whether their bodily or their spiritual food.  Blessed is that servant.

​​St Cuthbert playing a game​​
From a stained glass window in the south aisle of St Cuthbert's Church. St Cuthbert is depicted as a boy playing golf with his friends. In the background can be seen Melrose Abbey.
And as for Cuthbert, so for us. The question is clear - how are we using our worship to feed our lives of thanksgiving to God actioned in lives of service amongst those with whom we are set - at work, at home, in church, next door in the homeless drop in, in this parish amidst families in temporary bed & breakfast accommodation, many of whose children attend this parish's excellent church school, in the vast plans to transform, some might say cleanse, Earls Court into a major up-market residential neighbourhood.

Cuthbert may have been housed - eventually - in the finest cathedral in the world (even if I am slightly biased) but his presence there, his presence in this church under his patronage, his presence amongst the saints of God, teaches us, that faithfully, diligently seeking to worship God, is our primary focus from which, the care of all God's good creation flows and to which it must return again in worship.


So look to Cuthbert, in worship and in action, in Earls Court as in Durham, and do likewise, for 'Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, finds so doing.'