Bishop Rachel’s Chrism Eucharist sermon

Chrism Eucharist Gloucester Cathedral March 2018

[2 Corinthians 3.17–4.12 & Luke 22.24-30]

It is wonderful to see so many people here as we have gathered in from our many different contexts.
And I want to begin by saying a heartfelt thankyou for all the different ways you are contributing to mission and ministry across the diocese amid all the different challenges people are facing.

Not a day goes past without us being aware of the challenges in our world, whether it’s tensions between countries and peoples, or hunger or displacement; the environment or health and care; or the challenges facing businesses or farmers… and of course today we are exactly one year away from Brexit…and I could go on – The challenges in our world are myriad on a global, national and local level. And as a Church we are faced with huge challenges as we endeavour to reimagine ministry.

And in all of that there are many other challenges, not least in the whole area of safeguarding, which quite rightly has been much in the public eye with the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. There is a pastoral letter from the Archbishops on the diocesan website.

As we gather in this cathedral today, we have not come here to escape – we have come here to reorient ourselves; to refocus our hearts and minds on Christ; to be nourished and fed; and then to be sent out once more to the people and places of our lives – To be outward facing – Good news amidst all that people are facing in their lives so that people might discover life in all its fullness.

As you gather here from your different spheres of ministry and life, I wonder what it is that you are facing. In recent months I have found myself doing a lot of talking about what faces us – and particularly what faces us when we look in the mirror as I have spoken with young people about their value being more than their appearance.

As you look in the mirror this Holy Week who is the person you see facing you?

Words from our gospel reading: ‘A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest’…
In my experience I haven’t heard many such disputes amongst clergy and lay leaders across the diocese. Personally I am much more aware of people looking sideways and seeing themselves as less worthy than others when it comes to joining in with God’s mission and ministry across this diocese.
In my conversations with young people about the importance of recognising that worth does not begin with external presentation, I often talk about ‘inside out’ – And that sense of ‘inside out’ is reflected in those beautiful words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth when Paul talks of us being ordinary clay jars but with treasure within – the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

And of course the thing about Middle Eastern pottery jars is that they were very breakable – cracks easily appeared and the clay was often flawed – and if you put a glorious light within them then it would shine most visibly through the cracks and holes and thin places…

However physically unattractive we might feel; however crushed or struck down or perplexed we might feel, if we are followers of Christ then God has put Christ’s light within us, and it shines from the inside out.
But sometimes I think we are a little fearful of being open to that light God longs to fill us with, because we are so aware of the cracks and flaws and those deep and secret places which we wish to stay hidden – It’s called shame.

A few of you have heard me refer before to a powerful and moving TED talk I saw some years ago by someone called Brene Brown. She’s the Research professor at the University of Houston and at the time she was speaking about some research she had undertaken on vulnerability and how she discovered this thing called shame… “The fear that we’re not good enough.”
She calls it the fear of disconnection – “Is there something about me, that if other people knew it or saw it, then I would not be worthy of connection”.
I believe shame can make us and those to whom we reach out, fearful of God’s light. Today is a good day to be open afresh to God’s light … ‘shining in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’.

When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top in the presence of Peter and James and John, they saw ‘God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’ – the shining face of glory. But God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ isn’t all about dazzling magnificence on a mountain top.

The place where we most supremely see God’s love is as we look into the face of Christ hanging on the cross. The face contorted with pain. Sweat, blood and tears. Here is the revelation of what Paul calls ‘the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Here is Christ hard pressed on every side, and crushed …but not forever; here is Christ even despairing as he cries out ‘my God my God why have you forsaken me.’ He is indeed struck down – but he is not abandoned and neither is he destroyed…
Here is Christ opening the way to life in all its fullness. Love holding all of the world’s pain – never abandoning.

In her research Brene Brown discovered that total and complete love kills shame. She says: “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive.”

Well, the one who already knows our story, who understands us, and who doesn’t just respond with empathy but rather loves us completely, is God – hanging on the cross.

Look into the face of Christ. Here in this place of apparent destruction and failure is the face of the love of God in all its fullness – and it’s the face that means we can face our shame and failure and brokenness – as individuals, as communities and as the church. Of course, there are consequences of our sin – things we need to do or say as we seek forgiveness. There needs to be a turning around. But in the bloodiness and torture of crucifixion, love was killing shame.

Look into the mirror this Holy Week and see yourself precious, fully known by God who loves you and calls you and who puts the light of Christ within you so that it can shine through the cracks and flaws of our clay.

Our vision to live and share life in all its fullness across this diocese is not about seeing who can be the greatest or produce the most impressive project.
Yes, there is action and doing, and plans and decisions, but it doesn’t start in that place. It begins with us opening ourselves to the overwhelming love and mercy of God as we look into the face of Christ crucified …. And of course the face of Christ risen:
Three days after the crucifixion, on Easter morning, we will encounter a tear-stained face once again. But this time it will be the face of Mary Magdalene – Mary who hears her name spoken by the risen Christ. And in that moment she recognises the face of God who knows her and loves her and has opened for her the way to Life in all its fullness.

One day this broken world will be restored. One day all will be made new. God’s Kingdom has come and God’s kingdom is coming – on earth as in heaven.
Today we renew our commitment to joining in – and, says St Paul, ‘since it is through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart’.

We are all facing different things in our lives: perhaps some people are wondering how great they are compared to others – I also know that many people here are facing significant struggles – and perhaps some are feeling hard pressed on every side…
But I pray that here in our worship we will look on the face of Christ on the cross and be overwhelmed by God’s love killing our shame. May we be filled afresh with the treasure of God so that Christ’s light might shine through the cracks and flaws of our own lives, as we serve our broken world.

The oils from today are about exactly this…
As we are nourished and fed in our worship today I pray we will recommit ourselves to nurturing worshipping communities which are about gathering people in from the weeks they have faced; so that they can be sent back out to serve as followers of Christ in the places of their lives, amidst all that people are facing in the world around us.

AMEN

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