In this concluding section of his 2017 Chrism Mass sermon, the Bishop of Wakefield calls on us to be examples of love and forgiveness
We live in a very inward-looking, self-regarding world. Even the most critical and noble of human quests, like the quest for justice, fairness, human rights or freedom, can be turned into a narrow and egotistical pursuit. Realistically, this has always been the case. The love Jesus proclaimed and modelled for us supremely in the events we commemorate this week was never easy for people to accept, never mind embrace. Peter very blatantly and the other Apostles too, not to mention the crowd who cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday, demonstrate that this week so well. Showing scant regard for the greater good of society and the future of humanity is not new.
To love is to go out of oneself, to put the other before oneself, to serve the other, and to die in his or her defence if it comes to that. In other words, it is the Way of the Cross, as this week that we call ‘holy’ proclaims. To love in this way, the way Jesus loved, is not easy. But our call is to live ourselves the love he lived ‘to the end’ during these days. It is not for us to demand it of others, but to be examples of this love to them ourselves. With regard to how others may act, he set down the marker for us all: ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do’. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Laying down our own lives is what achieves the society we wish to build. There is no other way to establishing the Kingdom of God.
Jesus knows us as we are and he loves us as we are. God never created anyone whom he did not love, and that love is never obliterated by our infidelity and sinfulness. Pope Francis describes the Church as a ‘battlefield hospital’, where immediate healing and restoration of wounded humanity should be the first mark of every encounter with the Church of Jesus Christ. In our ministry as priests and deacons and as lay men and women – as missionary witnesses of Jesus Christ – we must rediscover that sense of faith in Jesus Christ as a faith in the one who revealed to us that God loves us. A heightened awareness of how every encounter with the Church of Jesus should be an encounter with a God who loves us should also lead us to a necessary and ever more sensitive understanding of the horrendous sense of betrayal felt by those who were abused or wounded within the Church of Jesus Christ.
Holy Thursday and this Chrism Mass are special moments when we renew our commitment to ministry. The Lord will give us the strength if we recognize our weakness and place out trust in him. This is not simply to sit back and leave everything passively to the Lord. Renewal can be painful and means moving out of the comfort zones that each of us create for ourselves or allow ourselves to slip into. Cynicism or scepticism are never the responses of the genuinely committed. Cynicism is not smart. Cynicism is not noble. Cynicism robs creative energy. The challenges we face within The Church of England require new energy and new enthusiasm and new realism.
The more we lose those aspirations and ideals which first drew us towards priestly ministry, the less we become true ministers of the joy of the Gospel and become trapped in our own frustration. We must rediscover those hopes and aspirations and the ideals if we have lost them. We must learn to transmit those same hopes and aspirations and the ideals to others who might be thinking of dedicating their lives to priestly ministry. We need vocations.
I ask you all to pray for our priests and I ask priests to pray for those to whom we are called to minister. We all share one baptism. As the prayer of consecration of Chrism will remind us, all of us are all sharers in Christ’s office of Priest, Prophet and King, through being anointed with the same Spirit and conformed to Christ.
Let all of us then pause for a moment in silent prayer now, asking God to bless each other in our varied ministries and callings and that each of us, in our own way and with our own specific responsibilities, will go away this evening renewed in our commitment to be true missionary disciples of Jesus and to work – confidently and joyfully and united under Jesus the Lord – to build the future of The Society, our Society, in this diocese and in the Church of England.