01 July 2018 – Patronal Festival

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Archbishop John Paterson

Months ago, when the Vicar invited me to be the guest preacher on your Patronal Festival, he asked me to try and weave into the sermon some reference to Matariki.  I wondered if there was something obvious that I was missing.  What could possibly be the connection between Matariki and St Peter I wondered.  Well, here goes.  They both share the nature of an anniversary in that they occur on a yearly basis, although in fact Matariki is always amongst the stars but in May and early June they are hidden behind the Sun.

Matariki is of course the Maori name for the collection of stars known variously by its Greek name as Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters.  It is universally known, and in fact the logo of one Japanese car maker uses a stylised version of the stars to market its particular brand of motor vehicle.  Subaru is in fact the Japanese name for this star cluster.  In China it is known as Mao, which translates as ‘the Hairy Head of the White Tiger of the West’.  I wasn’t able to make a connection with St Peter on that one.

But here in Aotearoa, it has become known as ‘Maori New Year’, and there is sound science involved.  Matariki rises in late May or June each year at the point of the Sun’s furthest rising in the North, as viewed from New Zealand.  As such it served as a reminder in the heavens that preparations should begin for the planting of new crops to be harvested in late summer or early autumn.

It was also a good excuse for celebrating the fact that the last season’s crops by now were safely stored up, that the cycle of life and growth had been completed, and that God had once again been good to his people.  After the rising of Matariki the Sun commences its slow journey back towards the South, at least in terms of its rising point.

For many Matariki was the excuse for the flying of kites, long before

that particular form of recreation was introduced by Pakeha.  It was said that such creations floated amongst the stars and were therefore appropriate to use on the big occasions.

There are in fact approximately 1,000 stars in the Matariki cluster, but only seven are visible to the human eye unaided.  Matariki is said to be the mother or ‘Whaea’, and she is surrounded by her six daughters:  Tupu-a-nuku, Tupu-a-rangi, Waipunarangi, Waiti and Waita and Ururangi.  When they appear, it is time to remember the dead and to celebrate new life.  They are in fact larger than our Sun, and they are blue because they are very hot.  They are only 444.2 light years away, which makes them one of the nearest star clusters to planet Earth.

Is there any obvious connection to St Peter ?

I want to make a radical suggestion.  You will know that our Church Lectionary, in fact our whole Church calendar was first devised by scholars in the Northern Hemisphere.  So Easter was designated to coincide with the new life of the northern Spring, and the hope represented by Christmas was set down for the dark days of December.

Those scholars had taken a pagan festival celebrating the cosmic battle of the powers of darkness against the powers of light, and decided that it could be expressed in terms of the darkness of sin and death, versus the only real source of light and hope in the person of Jesus Christ.  They then set this theme for the season of Advent, and you only have to look at the readings for Advent to understand this.  So in Advent we read of some of the dark sayings of Jesus about cosmic battles and forces of good and evil, and therefore the importance of preparing for the coming of something good, something much better.

If those early scholars had lived in Aotearoa they would have taken note of the Maori calendar, and seen that the coming of the light as celebrated in Matariki would have made much more sense in terms of the southern seasons, and set the Christian calendar accordingly.  Easter for us would make so much more  sense if it was set down for September and our Spring.

But we are saddled with a Northern Hemisphere mind-set, and we have to make some jumps in logic in order to establish any such connections.

Clearly on St Peter’s Day we remember the dead because St Peter is one of them.  Clearly on St Peter’s Day we can celebrate new life and dance and sing and feast – is that a hint about the Parish lunch to follow ?

Perhaps there is a greater connection in that St Peter’s Day celebrates the foundation of the Church – ‘you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’.  There is implicit a form of planting, of new beginnings, the celebration of new life, new growth under God.

God’s statement to Peter is echoed by Peter’s great declaration to God: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

That surely encapsulates the foundation task of the Church.  St Peter’s Day reminds us that we are to make known our conviction about Jesus of Nazareth, that he is in fact the Son of the living God; the source of all light and hope and love in the world.  That should be central to our thinking, central to our living, central to our faith.  The Church is built upon the rock of the ordinary man and woman, of whom Peter was typical. Making that same confession of faith about who Jesus was and is.  This is the distinctive thing that the Church has to say and through which it exists.  If it cannot, or does not do this, it will not survive.  And it is not inconsistent with an understanding of Matariki, the coming of the light.

The Church is not pre-eminently a welfare organisation.  The Church exists to bear testimony to a distinctive conviction about Jesus the Christ.  No-one else will do it.  And if the Church places anything else at its centre, it will fail.

So, lets fly a kite or two to celebrate both Matariki and St Peter and thank him for articulating the faith of the Church – ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

We have our foundation task, and we carry it out by our preaching and by our speaking.  Since my time with you here at St Peter’s I have looked after a number of parish churches, including St Aidan’s in Remuera.  One of the faithful members of that Parish always asked me for a written copy of my sermon to take home.  She informed me that at Sunday evening dinner time with her family, she always liked to discuss the morning’s sermon.  Talk about pressure on the preacher !  But it was a fair request.  We have a  faith to proclaim and we do it in any number of ways.  Perhaps we should be gossiping the gospel.

The primacy of Jesus Christ is proclaimed by the life of the community of believers that follow his way.  It is a distinctive way.  It is at many points quite different from the worldly way.  It is the way of the cross;  it is the way that seeks to overcome not by force but by love;  it is the way of giving and not of getting;  it is the way of honesty and not of cheating; the way of charity and not of fault-finding.  For a community to live in this way, to live in this fashion, and for individuals to embody it in practice, is to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over our common life.

If Matariki is to remember those who have gone before us, if Matariki is the promise of new light and warmth, if Matariki is to celebrate new life and new growth, if Matariki is to remind us to make preparation for another year, then surely Matariki can also serve to remind us  of the source of light and hope and life and love, can also serve to remind us on what we are founded.  The great confession of Peter is our rock-like basis.  The great rock-like basis is the great confession.  ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.’

The Wise men were led by a star to Jesus.  The Prayer Book has a beautiful phrase:  Ko koe taku whetumarama i te po – you are my bright evening star.  That is quite separate from Matariki.  But  the eyes of God, or Matariki can do just the same.  The Moon influences our seasons and our tides, but it is the constancy of the stars that navigators rely on to locate our place in God’s universe.

So let’s thank God for Matariki.  Let’s thank God for St Peter.