Chrism Mass 2024 Salisbury Cathedral

Chrism Eucharist 2024

1 Samuel 16.1-13a   2 Corinthians 3. 17-4.12   Luke 22.24-30

Thirty-three years ago, I became an incumbent in the Diocese of Salisbury at the age of 27. Thirty-three years ago, our daughter was born, and today, she’s at Everest Base Camp. Thirty-three years ago, the Gulf War began and then months later it ended. Thirty-three years ago, Terry Waite was freed. Thirty-three years ago, Freddie Mercury died. Thirty-three years ago, George Carey was made Archbishop of Canterbury. I remember that because Carol was in labour with Katie and my training incumbent, and I were sat on Carol’s maternity hospital bed watching the service from Canterbury in black and white and she couldn’t start to push until the service was over. Carol remembers that happy picture too. And thirty-three years ago, my football team last won the FA Cup. It’s been a while and I’m still waiting and waiting…………

And thirty-three years ago, the scaffolding went up on Salisbury Cathedral. It began the major repairs programme, and thirty-three years later, just a few weeks ago, finally, after a generation, the scaffolding came down, and your cathedral can now be seen in all its inspirational beauty. For thirty-three years the vision of Bishop Richard Poore in 1237 has been obscured and an ugly curtain of steel has got in the way of stone saints and gilded gargoyles. Ironically, it took exactly thirty-three years to build the cathedral from scratch and complete it, so perhaps we have regressed in ability and vision.

And all of us here today, lay, and ordained, know of something else that took thirty-three years, we know of someone. We are here because of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We carry his name, and we are, with all God’s people, a living temple to his incarnation and to our salvation. One life to change the world forever.

The Gospel reading we have just heard speaks of this life as one of service. “I am among you as one who serves”, The disciples are in dispute as to who among them is right and the best, and despite this, God in Christ is serving us. We come today to rededicate ourselves to that service as ministers of the Gospel, and to remodel ourselves on the person of Jesus.

This person, Word made flesh, goes on today to do as many of you will do later, to wash feet. It is a radical reconfiguration of power. At one level, Jesus is calling us to be the servant, to upturn the hierarchical norm, and be the servant, performing the menial task of hospitality. But the action of ultimate ministry we see today is more than that. In God washing your feet, in God being placed into your hands, in God in the oils you will use, Jesus is affirming the immense human dignity in people, and their undeniable status as created in the image of God. This is the ministry in which we share every day, with every visit, every service, every bedside, and every conversation surrounded in prayer.

But there is more. Jesus does not stop with our feet. He loves us to the end. The feet of Judas were washed, even though he was the betrayer. Jesus loves us so much, that even those who betray him, let alone those who fall short, are loved to the end. The following day, this love is outstretched, as Jesus loves us all forever, even though we fled.

The radical equality and dignity embodied in the washing of feet, by a 33-year-old, applies to all, without exception. Yes, there will be accountability and consequences for us (though these are not spelt out), yet this accountability does not negate Judas’ humanity or dignity, and does not distort Jesus’ relationship to him, or his relationship to you and to me. Jesus’ attitude to Judas embodies holding together both love and justice, as it does in his body on the cross.

But there is still more. Jesus in this sacrificial service, is exercising truthful power. The mess around him is not his – he has not contributed to sin and brokenness, quite the opposite. Jesus shows us that power cannot be a bystander: either, like him, power works for liberation, or it colludes with the forces of oppression. God works for transformation and justice now. He does not wait for the oppressed to rise up or wait for the poor to be rich, he quite literally, on the Way of the Cross, shoulders the responsibility for change, and invites us all to join in his work. Power is deeply reconfigured into responsibility towards the other, even if it costs nails and death. This is a model worth reflecting upon in a General Election year. It is to this ministry that we are called. And we are not called here to nails and crucifixion.

The problem though, is that all too often, the scaffolding obscures the vision. All too often, our scaffolding gets in the way of seeing clearly.

The scaffolding of our lives gets in the way of the power of the scaffold of Calvary. Our opinions, our statements, our tribes, our preferences all get in the way of what Jesus showed us. Even our theological interpretations and understandings, can get in the way of the clarity of the vision Jesus himself presents to us. It is the person of Jesus upon whom we should focus today. And our social times do the same, the scaffolding of cynicism and mistrust, of inequality in society and violence here and abroad, all obscure the radical nature of the love of God. This itchy-scratchy society and this itchy-scratchy church are obscuring the vision glorious. Today, we have an opportunity to re-commit ourselves to our calling and to recover our vision, the vision of the love of God. It is not easy. Pope Francis has recently said; “We live not in an era of change, but in a change of era.”

And so, I can’t help but ask the question of myself, and of you as we enter these three days, how long will it take to bring down your scaffolding? How long? How long will the vision of Jesus’ mission and ministry be obscured? Is it always about others, or is it sometimes about us? How long will it be that our scaffolding gets in the way, propping us up, so that the cross is perpetuated over and over again?

Our vision is more than diocesan, more than Courageous Christian leadership, more than Working for Justice, more than Creative partnerships in local mission, more than Climate action, more than Financing the future sustainably. Our vision on this day and in every day of your precious ministry is looking to Jesus and making him known. We may be afflicted in every way, but we are not crushed, because of Jesus, we may be perplexed but we do not despair, not because of us, but because of Jesus, I don’t think, unlike our brothers and sisters in the Sudan we are persecuted, so all the more reason to lower the scaffolding. Let the vision of Jesus Christ be ours, and yours to share.

My sisters and brothers, 33 years after the scaffolding went up, the vision is restored, built to the glory of God as a sign for all to see from afar. Today, let us renew our calling, and see God’s vision again, as ministers of the Gospel, in making Jesus known.

“I am among you as one who serves.” Amen.

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