Preached on 3rd June 2006
(Durham Cathedral Friends' Festival Evensong)
by The Reverend Canon Rosalind Brown
Today Friends of Durham Cathedral celebrate friendship with this Cathedral. It has been said of friendship, ‘God came today in my mailbox and reminded me that friendships do not die. They simply wait awhile. They quietly remember. In the absence of the beloved they age like good wine. I am happy to say that, in spite of the distance between us and the infrequent letter, you are good wine in my life, always ready to be poured out again when the sacred moment returns.' For some of you this is a reunion with an old friend you have not seen for a long time and I hope that your friendship has aged like good wine. For others coming to see this old familiar friend is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers and sitting down with a cup of tea.
Either way, friends greet us. This pillars of this cathedral greet me with words from Psalm 90, ‘Lord you have been our dwelling place through every generation.' They speak to me of stability: it has survived more wars, disasters and crises than most buildings in England and its presence assures me that there is hope for the future even in the midst of trouble. But friends also take us by surprise and sometimes this Cathedral greets me by revealing new sides of itself, perhaps by the way that sunlight falls on the stone so that it appears, in the words of the hymn ‘new every morning'.
Just as we tell our friends stories of our lives, so the cathedral is a safe and welcoming place to bring and tell our stories, however inarticulately, in the context of the worship of God. Think of the weddings and funerals that this cathedral has witnessed, the miners' galas and Remembrance Day services, the baptisms and ordinations. Sometimes it is my privilege to read and pray the prayers that our visitors share with us and I wonder what lies behind sometimes no more than half a dozen words, or just a name. Even though this Cathedral doesn't necessarily encourage easy-going familiarity so much as reverence, I've watched people weep quietly in this building because it is a safe place for tears, and I've watched children laugh in excitement.
Friends do things together. The choir makes music here; flower arrangers and broderers create beauty; the stewards and guides and bedesmen welcome people, people worship here at least three times every day - it puts our own prayer life in perspective when we remember that every day for nine hundred years, barring a few hiccups, this Cathedral has echoed with prayer.
Friends help each other to grow and change. In worship we become more godly, and the Cathedral plays its part by reminding us of the importance of beauty in worship and our lives, by its stability and spaciousness, and its frivolity and fun: the Aidan altar frontal tells us that creepy-crawlies belong in worship too! But friendship is never one way; we change the cathedral. As music bounces off its walls or drops gently into the quire, as the flowers change with the seasons, and as you and I assemble here, so the building is changed. And the Friends change the Cathedral - the 20+ miles of sound system cables, the north transept ramp, the Margaret Altar frontal are all reminders that this cathedral is being changed by friendship.
Friendship pervades the bible, most obviously but not only in the gospels where Jesus called his disciples friends. But true friendship was not all one way: he was influenced and changed, challenged and comforted by his friends, by Peter and John, by Joanna and the many Marys we hear of, by Joseph and Lazarus, Judas and Nathaniel. Even by Judas Iscariot.
There was a cutting edge to friendship. He held them, and holds us, to our best. Earlier we heard of him standing in another much loved building, the temple, shouting out to the people gathered for the Feast of Booths when water was carried in a joyful procession from the Pool of Siloam to the temple, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' It is a reminder that a building and the ceremonies within it are meaningless unless they lead to life for others. Jesus wanted to refresh his friends but also to make them a source of refreshment to others. And so at Pentecost Jesus catapulted his friends into something they never dreamed of, turning their lives upside down and inside out as the Holy Spirit came on them in tongues of fire and sent them out as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, going to their death if necessary.
So, in celebrating our friendship with this Cathedral, and ultimately friendship with the One in whose name it is dedicated, on this eve of Pentecost we must not forget that the Holy Spirit's first action at Pentecost was to turn the disciples out of the building they were in in order to bear witness in the world. May our friendship never be bound by or to this Cathedral but be life giving so that others - whether friends and strangers - can drink here of the living water that Christ gives. Amen.
 Macrina Wiederkehr. ‘A Tree Full of Angels'. Harper Collins