Sermon – 100th Anniversary of St Mary's being made a Cathedral

Here is the this morning’s sermon. Audio and visuals are on the preaching page as usual.

stars and rocketA couple of days ago, I was away from home overnight. I was away on church business, staying in a retreat centre. I have to admit that I’d generally rather not stay in Christian premises if I can help it, but sometimes you just have to go.

The place I was staying in was plush – more so than usual. And even more unusually, it had a swimming pool which could be used day and night.

Thus is was that at about 10 pm on Thursday evening I was swimming in a warm pitch black swimming pool looking up through a glass roof as one by one the stars came out.
There is something universal about the experience of looking up into the sky and watching the stars begin to shine.

As we gaze upwards into the stars, people often begin to think. To ponder. To dream.
When we look at the stars, we somehow think about who we are. We think about our place in the universe.

As I was swam up and down on my own in Perthshire, I found myself feeling sad that the stars were not with me here in the city. Not being able to see the stars is one of the very, very few things that I regret about living in the city.

It felt quite sad until suddenly, I had one of those little epiphany moments when i remembered that I did have the stars with me in the city. Indeed, I have them every week here in St Mary’s in the form of Gwyneth Leech’s stunning canopy of stars which reaches over our heads when we take communion here in this place.

It was customary to put stars on the ceilings of mediaeval churches. Gwyneth has done the same for us. She is telling us through the painting that soars over our heads that this is a pondering place, a dreaming place, a place for working out who we are in the world and what our place is within it.

The same stars that shone over me in Perthshire shone once over a young woman as she made her way from Nazareth to her cousin’s house for a bit of peace.

Mary would have seen the same stars and had the same opportunity to think, to ponder to dream that we have.

Out of her dreaming comes her song. Out of her pondering comes her magnificat. Out of her pondering comes a song which is not just about who Mary was but about who we are as a congregation which bears her name all these centuries later.

My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

The Magnificat, Mary’s song is a fundamental of prayer.

Let me give you a spiritual exercise to try this week, if you want to learn to pray and don’t know where to start. Take Mary’s song this week. You’ll find it in Luke’s gospel. I’ll put it on my website to make it all the easier to find.

Take her song and read it through as evening comes each day.

Every week here in St Mary’s we get the glories of Choral Evensong. Choral Evensong is that very spiritual practise polished up and dressed in its Sunday best. Tonight as on every Sunday evening as evening comes, we will sing Mary’s song. We’ve lived through one century as a Cathedral, through several centuries as a congregation and through many centuries as a God’s people. And Mary’s magnificat has been central to who we are through all that time.

He has regarded the lowliness of his servant and all generations will call me blessed.
I was at a service of evening prayer this week where we did not sing or say Mary’s hymn. Instead we sang the old spiritual – “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother or my sister but its me O lord, standing the need of prayer”

No doubt there is a time and a place for that kind of sentiment. Sometimes we do need to concentrate on ourselves and bring our own need to God.

Yet if anyone had reason to look inwards and think about her own troubles it was Mary. Vulnerable mother. She had every reason to be fed up and miserable yet she sang a different song and I found myself missing it when it was missed out of evening prayer.

She had every reason to be miserable but somehow managed to find a hymn of praise and justice which echoes down all those centuries not just our own recent hundred years.

He has shown strength with his arm: he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

There is something about Mary’s song which gets to me whenever I hear it whether it is the glory of the choral music of a Sunday evening or reading it over alone in prayer and pondering. It is the combination of worship and justice intermingled that gets to me. Praise and putting the world to rights.

Too many of the modern songs that get offered in churches come from the me, me, me culture which Mary challenges as she sings.

The mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.

Worship and praise.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Justice and putting the world to rights.

Do you see how these two ideas tumble over one another in this amazing song.

I imagine Mary sitting under the stars making sense of her world and her situation and this song coming out of her bringing light in the darkness of her situation.

The same stars shone on those who planned a church here. They sang Mary’s same song week by week. The same stars shone on those who made this a Cathedral – a gathering place for the diocese. They sang the same song here in this same place.

Now Gwyneth makes the stars shine down on us, even in the light of day. And I love the modern rocket that she puts in the heavens – a reminder of the sparks of inspiration which lead not only to worship and justice making but also the ideas of science and the yearnings that human being have for discovery.

That rocket amongst the stars tells me that this is a good world and that we can conquer more and more of what is wrong with it if we let the sparks of inspiration burst into flame within us.
This week as on every week we will meet under the stars this evening to sing Mary’s song. This morning as on every Sunday morning we meet under the same stars to share communion. This week when you come forward, don’t just look down, don’t just look at your hands. Take a look upwards and see the stars above you.

God has made us promises that are worth remembering. Mary sang about them. We can make her song our own prayer.

Worship and justice. Mingled.

Glorious worship – the stones of this building have echoed the praises of many.

Doing justice. Doing what is right – this is a place for people to work things out. To dream, to ponder, to plot and to plan for a world made better, a world getting put right.

One song at a time. One year following another. One century turns into another.

The stars still shine. The world still turns. Our minds here in St Mary’s turning, spinning, set in motion by the vision of that waif of a girl singing in the darkness all that time ago.

Glorious worship. A passion for justice.

That’s Mary’s song. If you come to this place and belong here, its your song too.

No better kind of faith have I yet found.

Come to communion.

Look at the stars.

Join in the singing.



  1. Many Happy Returns!

  2. Melissa says

    I appreciated the image of the stars.

    Unfortunately, one family member’s comment was, “Well, I don’t think I ever got past thinking, ‘Gee, Kelvin, don’t you know how dangerous swimming alone is, much less in the dark”.

    Happily though, it does show that someone is at least a little worried about how easily you can be replaced.

  3. BUNNY says

    Your Dad has just suggested that I might have a look at your Magnificat sermon, and I have — as pretty well always when he points me at something, it’s worth looking at. Thank you. Good idea to use the Magnificat in prayer for the next week – strange, as I was thinking last night that after using the CofS’s v good Pray Now for nearly a year, I was getting a little stale. God looks after one’s needs in a very personal way. Praise him!
    Mind you, the Magnificat is a very revolutionary piece, so who knows where it will lead me and those who follow your advice!

  4. traceymac says

    Awwww… thanks for printing your sermon! Means i can hear it again whenever i like!

  5. Have you seen the Hubble pictures of stars and galaxies? I like putting them
    on the desktop of computers I use (it is legal to use them for free) so you could look at the stars while blogging (or composing the next sermon).


  1. […] words never fail to move me. The Provost of St. Mary’s, Kelvin Holdsworth expands on the meaning of the Magnificat in much more detail and so much more eloquently than I ever could on his own […]

Speak Your Mind