ARCHBISHOP MICHAEL RAMSEY, sometime most venerable Archbishop of Canterbury, is said to have repeated many times during his late retirement years: (gleefully) “we are the early Christians!” And my abiding memory of encounters with him, a memory shared by countless others, is that of a godly priest who looked old and wise always and who, in his eighties, was also one of the most perpetually “young at heart” people I’ve ever known.
“We are the early Christians!” – the archbishop believed that the mission of Jesus – the proclamation of God’s love throughout the world for all the world – had barely got off the starting blocks! His faith kept him bubbling with youthfulness, a vitality that undergirded very great wisdom and sanctity. He loved mini-Mars bars and late-night conversation with young theological students. And it was easy for the delighted suppliers of said mini-Mars bars to love him.
Today at St Michael & All Angels Bramhall we celebrated our 101st Patronal Festival. We’re still young. Blessed under the patronage of angels and archangels we aspire to be “angelos” in our place and in our time. We look for inspiration both to the fathers and mothers – the abbas and the ammas of bygone days, Archbishop Ramsey among these – and to the wisdom of the youth in our midst to which Jesus pointed. Angels and archangels will be seen by Nathanael – and by you and me – “ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” – upon humankind. (John 1:43-51).
Humankind, all humankind, in company with Jesus of Nazareth (something good could, can, did, and does come out of Nazareth!) is to be actively involved in heaven’s opening … messengers of that continual opening in, and with, and for, and around us every day of our lives. We need to look for angels with the eyes of our youthfulness though. Churches – even full churches – where Christians have grown cynical and tired will miss what Archbishop Michael frequently called “The Glory of the Gospel”.
The youthful heart of a Michael Ramsey welcomes the light and the love of angels in the midst of our here and very ordinary now. Youthful hearts are open to tradition, and to newness, and to continual growing. Changing. “From glory to glory advancing”.
I preached today around verse 3 of the hymn When a knight won his spurs – the first hymn I ever sang at a primary school assembly – on my own first day at school, at five years old. And I was surprised by how much this little prayer for the restoration of our own soul’s youthfulness – for the freeing up of truthfulness – touched more than just a few:
Let faith be my shield
and let joy be my steed
‘gainst the dragons of anger,
the ogres of greed;
and let me set free,
with the sword of my youth,
from the castle of darkness,
the pow’r of the truth.
Angels on earth in company with angels and archangels in the fullness of the heavens, we’re all of us amongst the early Christians. There remains yet a lot of loving and a lot of learning to be done. That’s the challenge. And that’s the delight. 101 Patronal Festivals – and counting …