Dedication of Dean Storrs' Cope
Preacher: The Very Revd Adrian Newman, Dean (2005-2011)
7 September 2008, 15:15 (Trinity 16)
I’ve preached at the dedication of new churches, health centres and schools. I’ve dedicated rings, memorial stones, musical instruments. I’ve even dedicated animals before now. But I’ve never dedicated a cope – before now! Another first......
Copes have a good lineage - they have been worn liturgically since the 8th century. That’s a fairly good track record. As a liturgical vestment in the 21st century the cope is pretty versatile, and finds itself coming out in all sorts of liturgical weather.
They tend to be, purely by virtue of the amount of material involved, impressive pieces of kit. Unlike the good old black cassock, which tends to render its wearer appropriately invisible, the cope has a habit of standing out. And therein, of course, lies their problem.
Vestments are not meant to say of their wearer 'look at me' – if they do, they should be discarded. The moment that any of us who wear this cope start to like how we look in it (suits you, sir), we're finished as ministers, we really are.
This tension, which exists in all works of beautiful art, is a recurrent theme in scripture. All creation should point to the creator, not to itself. That is its purpose.
So how can this cope, so beautifully restored, so redolent with human creativity and beauty, point beyond its wearer to God, and how can we make these connections every time it is in use here at the cathedral?
Let me offer 2 ideas.
The first is an obvious one, but no less important for being obvious. The dedication of any gift is in part a dedication of the giver. In today’s service we recognise the skill and vision that has gone into the re-creation of this wonderful vestment. The embroiderers have brought their customary brilliance to this project, and restored a faded treasure to this glorious garment you see before you today.
At the dedication of this cope today, and on every occasion that it graces a member of clergy at the cathedral in the future, we are reminded that all of our gifts come from God and are to be dedicated to his glory. We marvel at the skill that has gone into this restoration; we are challenged to bring the very best of our talents and lay them at God’s feet to use to his glory. Just looking at this cope can remind us of that, and draw us to God.
There is something here very similar in Doug and Andrew’s gift of their musical abilities to the Cathedral over many years; the use of their talents and the way they have dedicated them to God in such a wonderful way for such a long time, is a wonderful thing. But a musician that draws attention to themselves – certainly in a religious setting – has lost the plot.
As we listen to music we may marvel at the genius of the composer, we may admire the accomplishment of the musicians, but above all we should be drawn to worship God through their offering, and reminded that we ourselves should offer the very best we are capable of to God.
That’s my first idea. The cope, like all pieces of art, should draw us to God, and help us offer the best of what we have to God.
Perhaps less obviously, but rather intriguingly, there is a way in which this particular cope links us with our past, with the land of Jesus' life and death, and specifically with a place that resonates with the world's desire for peace and unity.
Dean Storrs’ eldest son, Sir Ronald Storrs, accompanied Lawrence of Arabia to Jidda in October 1916, where they met Sherif Feisal who later became King Feisal 1 of Iraq. It was this meeting which began Lawrence's close involvement with the Arab cause and revolt. After the successful British campaign led by General Sir Edmund Allenby which ended the 400 year occupation of Jerusalem by the Ottoman Empire, Storrs became the British Military Governor of Jerusalem for 1917 - 1919. He was later appointed Civil Governor from 1920 - 1926.
Rochester Cathedral already has an historic link with Jerusalem from this time. You may know that the sanctuary lamp comes from Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a gift of Ronald Storrs; and the union flag which used to be stored in the old Treasury of the Cathedral was the flag first flown in Jerusalem after the British forces entered the City behind General Allenby (now sadly mislaid). And now, the silk in this cope provides us with another link, for in 1914 Ronald Storrs sent his father a length of silk for a cope, quite possibly from Jerusalem itself, and this silk made up the body of the cope we see before us today.
Each time this cope is worn, with just a little bit of poetic licence, we are connected with the historic significance of Jerusalem, and the way in which it functions as a focus for our world’s desire for peace and renewal. And just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, this cope provides us with an icon to lead us into emotional intercession for those parts of our world torn apart by violence, and cultural, religious and ethnic divisions.
So.....this cope should never say ‘look at me’. It should draw us to God, to his creativity and renewal; it should remind us to offer back all our talents to His glory; and it can connect us with a special place, Jerusalem, which can lead us into prayer for peace and unity of the world.
Thank you, Susan, Janet, and all your wonderful team, for restoring something so rich in symbolic power for all of us to appreciate..........