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Chrism Mass Sermon, Maundy Thursday 2018

by Gerry Lynch last modified 29 Mar, 2018 03:20 PM

Bishop Nicholas preached at the annual ‘Chrism Mass’ at Salisbury Cathedral on Maundy Thursday, 29 March 2018

Texts: Ezekiel 37.1-14; Ephesians 7.4-13; Mark 14.10-31

“Can these [dry] bones live?” Ezekiel 37.3

Thank you to those who have helped us this Lent to Pray Together using short passages of Mark’s Gospel. It has been a good way of journeying through Lent together. The Gospel reading at this service was the slightly extended passage given for today with a reflection from Bishop Karen about what we take, bless, break and share in Thanksgiving.

This service is about ministry – the renewal of ordination vows and the blessing of oils for the anointing of the sick and dying, for the signing of the cross at baptism, and the oil of chrism.

Thank God for the ministry with which we have been entrusted and thank you for the ministry we share. Thank you to Bishop Ed and Archdeacon Paul and to all who will soon retire. Thank you to those who are moving to new posts. Thank you to Nick Papadopulos for accepting the call to be Dean of Salisbury and who will join us in September. Thank you to those who faithfully continue where God has kept you. Thank you to those who are retired and continue to serve, and to Eric Littler and those of you keeping your 50th anniversary of ordination this year. Thank you to those who minister with illness or disability who show us that being real is more important than being polished. It is wonderful that Stephen Batty is here. Thank you to him for the ways in which he has ministered with motor neurone disease. Thank you to all the clergy and the many, many more lay people who exercise ministry in committed, creative and varied ways in the name of the Church and the Lord we serve.  

In ministry none of us has it all. Being a Christian, being human, is a team game but between us, lay and ordained, we are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 7.13).

We do it together; and we do it not in our own strength but in Christ.

As a parish priest I always used to find that people with the most intractable problems would appear after the Sunday evening service when nowhere was open and there was no-one to whom I could refer them. For bishops the equivalent is receiving a letter late on Friday afternoon from the Archbishops about the Church of England and the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which they wanted read out or distributed at the start of Holy Week.

Please will you pray this Holy Week especially for all those involved, and for all affected by safeguarding issues.

Thank you for responding so promptly.

Janet Fife wrote a sharp but insightful Survivor’s reply to the Archbishops which is online.

I thought you might want to know,

she wrote,

how I, as a survivor, feel about your letter. And I know you’ll pay careful attention, because you’ve said you want to listen to survivors.

Since Archbishop Justin has called for an end to clericalism and deference, I’m going to call you Justin and John.

If you’re going to address us all as ‘Sisters and Brothers in Christ’, don’t finish with ‘The Most Revd and Rt Hon’. It’s just not brotherly. It looks like showing off. It certainly doesn’t look like the shame Justin said he felt.

If you want to send out something called a pastoral letter, make it pastoral…What practical steps have you taken to help survivors, for instance?

And so on.

It’s a good letter and a tough one and it’s received quite a lot of comment. She got me thinking about what we would be doing today gathered together and all dressed up at the start of the great three days that lead to Easter through betrayal, denial and the disciples running for it. I thought about a sermon preached at a bishop’s consecration maybe 40 years ago in which the reading was of the Prodigal Son whose father put on him the best robe and gave him a ring. The sermon said that bishops come dressed as the prodigal to witness to the love and mercy of God, even to the bishop, and we all know what he’s like.

In this context we are “well dressed” not to show off but because the more important truth is not our sin but God’s love. The prayer when the priest washes hands before the eucharist is real: “Lord wash me thoroughly from all my sins and cleanse me from my unrighteousness.” 

That is how we can be here with thanksgiving. But the symbols can be ambiguous. When I became a bishop I hated the shorthand by which I was sometimes referred to as +Nicholas (“plus” Nicholas), as if a super-charged cut above my former self, signified by the plus sign which in fact is the only suitable character on a keyboard to signify the cross of Christ before my Christian name identifying me as a bishop.

We note and we have to live with how being at the back of the liturgical procession has become the place of power and taking a towel and washing feet can be about exercising control.

We have got to be real about who we are as well as about the roles to which we are called in which the dressing up might not be showing off so much as a real humility that we are not here in our strength alone.

“Can these [dry] bones live?” Yes we can with God breathing through us.

Salisbury has had a very strange few weeks. Three Sundays ago two Russians were found in a critical condition on a bench as a consequence of a deadly military grade nerve agent. It was an attack not just on them but a violation of the city in which other people got caught up. A policeman went to their aid. The consequences are still unfolding. Sergei and Yulia Skripal are still in intensive care and a small section of the city is still closed. The policeman is on the mend but there has been a loss of confidence in each other. Who can we trust and how are we to live together? The implications have gone way beyond Salisbury. Twenty countries are sending home Russians from their embassies and tensions have risen in a way I cannot recall.

The Christian story is what Salisbury was built on nearly 800 years ago. It is still the organizing principle of the city now. In Holy Week we remember that Christ came into Jerusalem as messiah and king, had supper with his friends, was betrayed, denied, falsely accused, tried by earthly powers and crucified and on the third day rose again. You can’t keep a good God down.

This Holy Week is an opportunity to assert our faith in a deeper and different way of truth, sacrificial love and life everlasting. It is the way of the cross and these dry bones can and do live.

Our Archbishop, Justin, has a new book out: Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope. His starting point is that when he was growing up there was a shared vision of Britain post-war with a commitment born of adversity to build a future in which things could only get better through a commitment to housing, education and the heath service and of course to the reconciliation of Europe. That unifying vision has gone. Archbishop Justin starts to construct a new vision around community, courage and stability, shared values and beliefs for the common good.

It is an important project, all the more so in a post-truth world with fake news and in which powerful people assert “me first”.

Christians, clergy and the Church may fail to live up to our calling but we have the wit to come back and allow God to remake us, time and again to breathe new life in us. We may fail to live up to the truth but we seek to be people who are about the truth and are prepared to be judged by the truth. It is sometimes humiliating.

“Can these [dry] bones live?”

The way of Jesus Christ has never been more important for the world God loves so much. In this service we renew our commitment to the Lord who gave us a new commandment to love one another as Christ loves us, to whom be glory now and forever. Amen

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