Bishop Anne’s sermon from Chrism Mass
Bishop Anne has released a text copy of the sermon she preached at the Chrism Mass held at St Andrew’s Cathedral yesterday. It is shown below, and a printable PDF copy is also available. The full service, including the sermon, was streamed on the Cathedral’s Facebook page and is available here.
Ordinary Things – Holy Purpose
This is the week when we are shown most clearly that God takes the simple, ordinary, humble things of this world and uses them for holy purposes.
Palms, oil, bread and wine.
Thorns, nails and wood.
A fair linen cloth.
– in the telling of the Passion, and for us today, all these carry meaning beyond their everyday purpose.
If then we see that God takes simple things and uses them, it should not surprise us that God has a special purpose for us.
No matter how ordinary you think you are, how limited, how inadequate or broken, you – the baptised – are to be used for the purposes of God. The Holy Spirit has been breathed into you so that you can show forth the love of God in the world, so that you can be a sign of the kingdom, a sign of something so much more – of faith, of hope, of love.
And you – the baptised (you here, and your congregations elsewhere) – are together a priestly people, called to minister Christ in the world, to make him known, to lead others to him, to pray for the world that is broken that Christ came to heal. The people of God are the priests of the Kingdom.
So that the people of God first come to know, and then remember, that this is their purpose, God calls some to be ordained, to lead them and point them afresh to Christ. It is our purpose to remind God’s people of their priesthood though the way that we live ours.
All of this finds its reason and focus in the things that we do together this week.
As ordained ministers, priests, it is our duty to lead the people of God into and through the story of Christ’s Passion, to take them to the upper room, and the agony of the garden, through the torture and trial, to the agony of the desolation of the cross, and to the burial in the garden. It is our duty to hold them in the quiet of Holy Saturday, in that waiting time where God is silent. It is our joy to encourage them to be up early on Sunday morning, to be searching for the risen Christ so that they can hear him speak their names.
You will know that many struggle with this journey through the Passion. Some do not want to go there – the pain resonates too much with their own. For others it is overwhelming to face not just the consequences of their own sin, but the sins of the world.
You will, no doubt, have many folk who worship with you who were present on Palm Sunday for the ‘hosannas’, and will be back in church on Sunday morning for the ‘alleluias’ – but will for various reasons not be present with you this evening or tomorrow.
So, although this is a path we take slowly in Holy Week, each day a our holy station in which we live and pray in real time, it is a journey that we make in every Eucharist. It is part of our purpose as priests to take the people of God to the foot of the cross, to pray with them and for them there, to minister God’s healing and forgiveness, to stay with them in the holy waiting time, and be present to lead them into the joy of the resurrection.
Week by week we take people where they do not usually want to go (to the cross of Christ) so that there, first they, and then through them the wider world, can understand the cause and the necessity of the suffering and death of Christ. But we don’t just lead them there, we don’t leave people there, we lead them on to joy and new life, to help them understand the victory of God over death and how they are part of a new creation.
As priests, we understand that there is no joy without taking up the cross daily to follow Jesus. We hold the cross and resurrection together – in our liturgies, in our preaching, in our ministries, and in how we live our own lives. We do this so that God’s people learn to live this life and inhabit it for themselves.
This week you will have been praying and preparing, searching for the words, the symbols, the music to make the telling of this fresh and relevant – so that your people might hear it for themselves, into the full depth of their persons, and so be transformed, confident in their own living out of Christ’s story. This week is hard work, difficult work, holy work – but is right at the heart of our purpose as priests.
This is our holy calling – and at times, we know, it seems too much for us. We are aware of our own inadequacies, of our frailty, our brokenness, our sin. There are days when we truly know that without God we really are not up to this.
Later we will take ordinary oil and bless it for our use – for healing, to set people free from their sin, for their blessing. Humble things made holy by the Spirit of God.
As it is with this oil, so it is with us. Ordinary folk made holy by the Spirit of God, anointed for a holy purpose that brings liberation and new life. Today we offer ourselves afresh having confidence that it is God that called us – yes, us, to this.
As it is written (1 Cor 1):
Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Thanks be to God.