In this sermon, preached at his Chrism Masses in Grangetown (Sunderland), Carlin How (North Yorkshire), Manchester Cathedral and Goldthorpe (South Yorkshire), the Bishop of Beverley reminds us of our calling
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’
In the darkness that surrounds our Lord at the Last Supper he offers himself to the Father for us. Having instituted the Eucharist, Jesus will leave the Upper Room, descend across the Kidron Valley – that descent itself a symbol of Christ’s self-emptying love: in Incarnation and Cross he becomes one with us in our sin and failure – and enter Gethsemane to pray. In an agony of intercession for the world – intercession which the Letter to the Hebrews tells us continues eternally in the heart of God – Jesus offers himself for us. Then come arrest, trial and crucifixion – all this for us and for our world, for at-one-ment, atonement.
The seventy-two hours or so between Maundy Thursday and Easter Morning are the very heart of the Gospel, the very heart of the life of the Church, the very heart of what we have to live and proclaim to the world as the Body of Christ. From the prayers and actions of Our Lord in the Upper Room flow the very being of the Church, the sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, the whole people of God, lay and ordained together. All of us are called by Christ, chosen by Christ, to share in his worship, his witness, his intercession on behalf of a world that desperately needs to know God’s love and forgiveness revealed once for all – revealed once for all – in Christ, who became what we are that we may become what he is.
St. John wants us to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of Christ – Christ’s work of atonement, recreation; Christ’s work of cross and resurrection. The darkness of the Upper Room and the greater divine darkness that surrounds the cross is, St. John would have us see, a revelation of the light of glory, the Christian hope, a hope that is not merely a crossing of fingers but a deep and profound and certain hope based on the reality of cross and resurrection. Christ has died. Christ, we will declare at our Easter Vigils, is risen, and yes, Christ will come again.
And for now, Christ sends the Holy Spirit on us his Church, that as we in this Chrism Mass rededicate ourselves to our common baptismal vows, so too we may bless the Holy Oils to heal the world, empower the baptized and bless the ministry of deacon, priest and bishop.
This year especially it is understandable that many of us, as we gather, are saddened by recent events that are still working themselves out in the Diocese of Sheffield. We are saddened, and yes, maybe hurt, angered, even feeling betrayed. All such emotions are readily understandable, and as time moves on, and as together we respond to the initiatives of our two archbishops, we here today have a duty and responsibility to the whole Church of God to remind all of the need to maintain catholicity; to maintain the Sacraments, including the ‘walking sacraments’ that constitute the priesthood and episcopate; and above all to maintain the fullness of the catholic Gospel and so to live and to proclaim that Gospel so as to draw others to Christ.
For that is what we are about first and foremost. We are not called to be angry or to respond in kind to discourtesies. We are not called to be some sort of funny ginger group that likes a certain style of worship. We are not called to be members of the Cave of Adullam Club, who creep away and sulk. Our call, the call of the whole Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is to live the Gospel, to offer worship, to say our prayers, to celebrate the Sacraments .
St. John, exiled on Patmos, must have been very tempted to believe that his imprisonment and the then persecution of the Church of Christ spelt failure. But no: ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’ St. John sees Christ in glory – Christ still bearing the marks of nails and thorns and spear, Christ who ever lives to intercede for us. Flowing from Christ, flowing from the City of God, the Easter creation wrought through the cross, flows a river for the healing of the nations:
‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’
We are part of that great River of life, of love, of healing. We take the blessed oils of this Chrism Mass and return to our parishes – to suburbs and inner city and countryside, to churches crammed with worshippers, to churches where ‘two or three’ gather faithfully in Christ’s name to celebrate the Eucharist on behalf of the whole parish. We go out and we take with us Christ’s blessing, Christ’s call, Christ’s vocation, Christ’s work. And we do so in faithful hope and confidence. For Our Lord is praying even now that we – and the whole Church – may be one. Christ our High Priest sanctifies himself so that we all may be sanctified in truth. God bless you all.