Friends: It’s wonderful to be here this afternoon for this annual interfaith service that celebrates the rich and diverse religious and spiritual life of our city, and the bonds of love and respect we have forged between us. Brighton and Hove is a city of angels – and I want to take this opportunity to thank Rev Anthea Ballam, who conceived and developed the Angels project, for reminding us that angels are all around us. After all, angels are not just those carved in stone, or depicted in the beautiful and varied artworks produced for the ‘Angels’ exhibition. Angels are also people of flesh and blood.
In the original Biblical Hebrew sense of the word, an angel – malach – is a ‘worker’. The word malach is related to m’lachah, meaning, ‘work’. But a malach is a very special kind of worker; one that does the work of the Eternal.
In the Bible, these m’lachim – the plural of malach – are messengers, bringing messages from the Eternal One to individuals, in all kinds of circumstances.
Here in Brighton and Hove, m’lachim of all faiths and none are found working for and with those who are the most vulnerable and marginal in our city: people living in poverty on the streets, those who have taken flight from tyranny and persecution, war and destitution in search of refuge, young LGBT+ people, who have been rejected by their families and bullied by their peers.
From a Jewish perspective, a malach is not an other-worldly creature, but rather a person who commits themselves to translating feelings of care into acts of caring. The early rabbis, who lived and taught 2000 years ago, spoke of g’milut chasadim, ‘deeds of lovingkindness’, as one of the three pillars that upholds the world. We read in Pirkei Avot, the collection of the wise teachings of the rabbinic sages that is included in the Mishnah, the first code of rabbinic law edited around the year 200 (Pirkei Avot 1:2):
Al sh’loshah d’varim ha-olam omeid: al ha-Torah, v’al ha-Avodah v’al G’milut Chasadim.
The world stands on three pillars: on Teaching, and on Divine Worship, and on Deeds of Lovingkindness.
The world stands on these three pillars; which suggests that without the three pillars, it falls. So, why are these three particular things so important that they constitute the three pillars that uphold the world? Through engaging in Sacred Teaching, found in the Scriptures of all faiths, we discover what it means to be human, and our obligation to use our powers to build and sustain a just society. Through Divine Service, we acknowledge the Eternal One as the source of our lives, empowering us to act in the world. By undertaking Deeds of Lovingkindness, we channel our powers and our capacity for love to the service of others.
In the popular imagination, angels – m’lachim, may seem to be extraordinary ethereal presences, but they are only extraordinary insofar as people willing to summon up their personal resources of compassion and commit themselves to deeds of lovingkindness are extraordinary. Angels are not extraordinary in Brighton and Hove. On the contrary, they are ordinary people, doing deeds of lovingkindness each and every day.
And they – we – are here today. This multi-faith gathering is a congregation of angels, and this special annual day in the calendar of our city is an opportunity to celebrate the angel-work we do. The first verse of Psalm 133, offers these words of celebration:
Hinneh mah-tov u’mah-na’im, shevet achim gam-yachad
How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.
I would like to conclude by singing those words to the tune I learnt from my mother, who sadly died in November 1991. Zichronah livrachah – May her memory be for blessing. I will sing the words achim, ‘brothers’, and achayyot, ‘sisters’, alternately, recognising that both words, achim and achayyot, share a common root that conveys the deep connections we all share with one another as human beings, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture or religion. May the bonds that hold us ‘together in unity’ today on this day of light and joy, continue to hold us ‘together in unity’ during days of darkness and sorrow. And may they strengthen us for the angel-work that lies ahead.
This And let us say: Amen.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue
Interfaith Contact Group Annual Interfaith Service
Sunday, 25th November 2018
St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Portland Road, Hove