Special parish eucharist with input from the Rector of St Giles, Canon John Twisleton, and historian Ann Govas.
Introduction to the eucharist – Fr John
Some people make their mark on history. St Giles keeps the memory of William de Cahaignes who renamed Horsted when he arrived with the Conqueror. Of his crusader descendant whose image lies in the sanctuary. Of Giles Moore whose day book records 17th Sussex village life. Of teacher Sidney Peek who died a century ago on missionary service in Africa. Of Arthur Benson who wrote Land of Hope and Glory. Of Ronald and Winifred Knapp run over by a train on their wedding day. Of Harold Macmillan who served as prime minister. All of these we keep the memory of and many of them left the world better at their passing. One though made his mark beyond all the others. When his grave fell into disrepair a national subscription occurred to restore it. Though in life he failed to reconcile Catholic and Protestant in Scotland his writings are still read, his holiness is celebrated and his legacy to Christian education continues. If you could choose to exchange one day with any of the dear dead whose memory we keep at St Giles would it not be Robert Leighton? Who wouldn’t prefer to lie as Leighton lies, awaiting judgement over the service of God and neighbour? Robert Leighton’s death 300 years back is marked across the Christian world today because the mark he made wasn’t just on history. This holy man is our holy man today. 12 generations on we gather at his tomb. His life, writings, example and prayers are here and now, as here and now as the communion of saints. Many have said so over three centuries. We at St Giles have good reason to agree with them as once again we mark his passing, praying God who worked holy wonders in him to work the same wonders in us so that ‘we, like him, believing in the promise of God’s word, like our bishop in good living him, praise and magnify the Lord’. Let us keep silence and then call on the mercy of God for our failings.
Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 32:1-9, Psalm 100, 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2, Matthew 5:13-16
Sermon part 1 – Fr John
Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he. Those words from our first reading, Deuteronomy 32 verses 3 and 4 might summarise Robert Leighton’s invitation to us. Seek to stand on solid ground, on the word of God, and inherit his integrity. Man is a mutable changing essence both in body and mind, and frequently is misinformed Leighton wrote, yet… experience and enquiry give further light… as God, his word, and his confidence direct.
Leighton’s commentary on the first letter of Peter – here it is from the safe – adds: The word of God in itself cannot be abolished, but surpasses the permanence of heaven and earth, as our Saviour teaches; and all the attempts of men against the Divine truth of that word to undo it are as vain as if they should consult to pluck the sun out of the firmament; so likewise, in the heart of a Christian, it is immortal and incorruptible. Where it is once received by faith, it cannot be obliterated again: all the powers of darkness cannot destroy it, although they be never so diligent in their attempts that way. And this is the comfort of the Saints, that though the life, which God by his word hath breathed into the soul, have many and strong enemies, such as they could never hold out against, yet for his own glory, and his promise sake, he will maintain that life, and bring it to its perfection.
Saints have a heroic capacity – Leighton had that – as well as a capacity to point us to God as our Rock and source of integrity and to how laying hold on God’s word gives a purpose for living and a reason for dying. If Robert Leighton is turning in that ornate grave (we are to visit today) it will be over biblical illiteracy. How can we find our lives on a sure foundation without knowledge of God’s promises? The word of God in itself cannot be abolished…where it is once received by faith, it cannot be obliterated again: all the powers of darkness cannot destroy it. The school Leighton’s family founded in 1708 sought above all education in God’s written Word, the Bible, and that work continues not least through initiatives we’re following like Bible Society’s Open the Book themed and dramatised Bible stories.
The second reading on reconciliation set for today’s commemoration of our holy man from 2 Corinthians 5 might have been set in any case for post-referendum Sunday. In the Collect for Robert Leighton we just prayed: Eternal God you raised up Robert Leighton in a time of tumult to settle your people in the peaceable way of truth and holiness. If Archbishop Leighton were in his pulpit rather than his grave this tumultuous morning he would unpack for us as he did for both sides of the Scottish church divide the power of God’s word there: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
Leighton wrote: Let the love of your brethren be as a ﬁre within you, consuming that selﬁshness which is so contrary to it, and is so natural to men; let it set your thoughts on work to study how to do others good; let your love be an active love, intense within you, and extending itself in doing good to the souls and bodies of your brethren as they need, and you are able.
Sermon part 2 – Ann Govas
When I was in my twenties I worked at Birmingham Crown Court and one of my tasks was to prepare files for the trial judges. While doing this I became aware that new files held a fascination for some folk in the office. They were always keen to read the gory details. This made me wonder whether too much time spent reading about real life sleaze and violence might be bad for the mind.
Robert Leighton was interested in the far more difficult question of what is good for the mind and his writings on this subject are inspirational. He believed that all good and wholesome things in life sprang from the quality of our relationship with God and that the chief study of a Christian and indeed the very thing that makes a person a Christian, is that they want to be more like Christ. Those who strive to become like Christ (Robert maintained) find that the more they learn to truly love Him, the less self centred they become, because self love is the opposite to the love of God. When the love of God truly enters our hearts it destroys and burns up self love.
Our love then ascends upward to God himself and then radiates outwards to our brothers and sisters. It causes us to reflect the spirit of Christ which Robert said is all sweetness and love filling the soul with loving kindness so that being so filled it can show forth nothing else but loving kindness. We will be drawn to live what he called “an angelical life” partly spent in prayer and worship and partly spent helping our brothers and sisters in practical and spiritual ways.
This belief inspired Robert Leighton to involve himself in the provision of education, firstly for the children in his parish at Newbattle and then for the students of Edinburgh College and Glasgow University. Finally his influence on his nephew Edward Lightmaker helped to bring education to Horsted Keynes.
Robert’s example inspired his nephew Edward to build a school to provide free education for twenty poor children, plus twenty-one further children whose parents were to pay for their schooling. He also left money to pay for the upkeep of the school and to pay the salary of the schoolmaster. The Lightmaker School has experienced difficult times during its long history but nevertheless it survived and it is now incorporated into St Giles School. This school with its caring ethos, dedicated teachers and lively, stimulating curriculum underpinned by Christian teaching is an embodiment of the kind of educational establishment that Robert Leighton would have wished to see in the village where he lived and unofficially ministered to the poor and needy for the last ten years of his life.
Sermon part 3 – Fr John
Our Gospel reading captures the essence of sanctity, presenting Christian discipleship as impacting the world as salt and light. Imagine food without seasoning, Christ is saying, or a room without light?
So would the world be without you and I. It is that partnership Bishop Robert knew first hand – Christ as his light, he as a light to others lit up by Christ. The light of love – for when the love of God enters our hearts it destroys and burns up self love and then radiates outwards to our brothers and sisters.
In this morning’s Prayer Book celebration the last line of today’s Gospel, Matthew 5:16 has honoured place at the start of the offertory: let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. This morning as I say these words I’m mindful I stand where Leighton stood to preach and near where he stood to celebrate the holy mysteries. After saying that sentence in our rite of 1662 he would as priest take up the paten. This morning in extraordinary fashion, having heard that verse in the Gospel, I am to take up almost certainly the paten with which he celebrated the eucharist. Here it is again from the safe, a relic of Leighton which is part of the ongoing life of the church he loved and served from 1674 until his death in 1684. It has also been used for 300 years at weddings to hold the rings. At the eucharist this paten or holy plate symbolises the offering of life. The bread placed on it represents our life awaiting transformation by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Christ.
Robert Leighton’s invitation this morning is twofold – to trust God’s word afresh (show commentary) and to enter afresh the mystery of Christ’s love (show paten). We have heard God’s word. We are now to lay hold of his love in Christ’s dying and rising placing on this plate our hopes and aspirations and the joys and sorrows of the whole world. We include in this the ongoing work of Christian education Leighton entrusts us with under God. I end with his words about the eucharist: Let his death, which we commemorate by this mystery, extinguish in us all worldly affections: may we feel his divine power working us into a conformity to his sacred image. So be it.