Well all I can say is – at last. I have been coming here to Mass on St Matthew’s Day for nineteen years now and finally I get to speak.
And what a wonderful occasion this always is - a chance to meet with friends old and new. Perhaps people we only ever hook up with when we are here. St Matthew’s is most definitely a church where warmth and hospitality abound.
I am conscious too that having sat back there among the shimmer of clergy (I think that’s the collective term, a shimmer) there is very little that one can say that is new. We love this place. We hold it very dear. For many of us, if it’s not been our first home at some point, then it feels very much like our second, a place that together we share. For me, St Matthew’s is linked with all sorts of stages in life – the latest and best of which now finds me just up the road. And I am aware and I thank God for those others who have passed here too – many on the way to ordination - and still for those others, our dear departed, with whom our communion tonight is through the dramatic encounter of the Mass.
This is a place I love all the more because my parents used to worship here in the early 1960s. They first met each other whilst working around the corner in Church House, and it was there that my late father had two ideas for a date. One was to sit in the Strangers’ Gallery of the Houses of Parliament – it was warm and it was free, and the other was to attend Mass here. Such was his intentions – a mixture of romance and thrift.
I think that says something about my namesake too. St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, a name which means ‘God’s gift’. His gift is to bear witness to Christ and to extend his wonderful news.
St Matthew is romantic and he is thrifty. As the Gospel which bears his name recalls, here is Jesus Christ the fulfiller of God’s plan. Jesus, whose express purpose is to complete the promises of God and then drive them forward in a new mission that extends to the ends of the Earth. Without St Matthew there would be no Wise Men and no Sermon on the Mount – neither would we have Jesus’ great promise that he is with us to the end of the age.
St Matthew has a message magnanimous and bold – to go out to all the nations, baptise them and makes disciples. His ambition clearly has no end. Yet despite his romantic, idealistic intent, there is an element of caution, of thriftiness too. He has been an accountant, let’s not forget, a tax-collector – one for whom good order is king.
It’s Matthew who begins with that crazy list of names, the geneaology – from Abraham, through King David, to Jesus Christ. And he orders his gospel, the longest of them, into five very neat blocks, to echo the five books of the law. He is romantic, passionate and driven, but he also has a clearly worked out plan.
What we can say for certain about our hero is tiny. A martyrdom in Ethiopia, relics in Salerno, and his iconography gets somewhat mixed up. We have St Matthew pictured in glasses – no doubt due to his attention to detail. It’s an endearing anachronism – a whole new take on Specsavers – and it certainly does no harm.
Yet what it reminds me of, more profoundly, is this – that the saints help us to see Jesus. They frame the story of the Lord. Unlike Jesus they were not perfect. In St Matthew’s Gospel they keep getting it wrong. Yet commissioned, and then empowered by the Spirit, they are sent forth to evangelise, to be co-workers, to proclaim their message afresh.
St Matthew helps us to see Jesus by giving us the human angle – of bidding and response. “Follow me,” Jesus says, and Matthew got up and followed. But our Catholic faith gives us so much more than mere examples. For even before they have motivated us, the saints pray for us without pause.
So may St Matthew intercede us and for all who turn to him. For this church, for this parish, for us all here tonight. For bankers, for tax collectors, for all seek to share their faith.
May St Matthew, our patron here, renew in us a zeal for the gospel and help us to be effective in living it out. May we be inspired by his example and sustained by his prayers. Amen.