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/ 5 April 2012

Chrism Mass 2012

Location: St Paul's Cathedral
Date: 20120405

“Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah XXIX

There was a cheering atmosphere in the crypt below, just as there was when I visited St Alban’s Holborn earlier in the week. It reminded me of the small ad. collected by Barbara Pym in her book A Very Private Eye. “Things you can do in London: Austerity meal [with wine] at St Albans Holborn.” There is too little hilaritas in the Church.

Today we remember the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends. The shadow of betrayal and imminent death might have made for gloom and regret but instead Jesus handed over his future in the world to his friends. They were to re-member him and to be re-membered by his spirit into his body, his real presence.

Part of our duty as his friends in this place and time is to pass this story on and to help each other to build the City of God in the midst of this earthly city. The events of these three days which form the climax of the Christian year reveal the foundations of the two cities. The City of God is founded on blood given. The earthly city has been built on blood taken.

We are part of a drama whose author is God and which is recorded in the Bible. At the heart of this drama is the person of Jesus Christ who in the generosity of God was sent to embody God’s plan for spiritually evolved human life – “Christ is the image of God”. God calls us to follow Jesus and to open ourselves to the Spirit so that we may see clearly what is involved in serving Christ in the here and now and playing our appointed role in the unfolding divine drama. “And all of us with unveiled faces seeing the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another – for this comes from the Lord the Spirit.”

We assemble to re-member and not to dismember the body and to discern together the shape of the cross; the nature of Christian service and to name the hope in our own day.

All around us beneath the exuberance of Jubilee and Olympic Year when two or three are gathered together there is anxious talk about a world in which the tectonic plates are shifting and the distribution of economic and military power is changing. Yesterday’s steep fall in the markets may only be a temporary phenomenon but it illustrates the fragility of confidence – the faith we hold together in our earthly city.

In these circumstances it is a challenge to identify an adequate narrative which explains where we have come from; which is candid about the dangers we face but which gives us a future with hope.

The public narrative seems to be that after we have surmounted the present financial crisis we shall return to “growth” and the “normality” enjoyed by the post war generation. Reading the signs of the times I believe that we should be preparing to enter a “new normality”. This is not a time for Christian triumphalism but it is a time that is pregnant with hope for those who are heart and soul committed to building the City of God as we proclaim “Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’s sake”.

We have tried together over the past years to discern what it means to proclaim and serve in contemporary London. London Challenge 2012 was an attempt to do this and it reaches the end of its useful life this year. Much has happened since the Diocesan Synod endorsed the final document in 2006. It is astonishing how much of what we purposed together has in fact come to pass.

Church planting has indeed re-vivified the church in a number of places.

The academies of which we dreamed have been opened and the hope of providing 2012 new places in the secondary schools of the Diocese has been achieved and exceeded.

Young ambassadors for Jesus Christ have been recruited to serve in the period of the Olympic Games and to contribute to the Olympic legacy. They will be commissioned here at St Paul’s on St Mellitus Day later this month.

We set out to become a Fairtrade Diocese and were able to celebrate the successful conclusion of the campaign just a few weeks ago.

Our work in energy conservation has set standards for the church throughout the country.

Money has been raised to support the link through ALMA which has enriched us spiritually in so many ways. I could go on but the point is made.

One of the privileges of being a peripatetic bishop is that you are for ever turning a corner and finding the church community hard at work building the City that is to come. Since we met last year I have seen much that is hopeful. The way in which the church was present and active in binding up wounds and working for social peace in last August’s riots was inspiring. Those who belong to Christian organisations like XLP engaging with hard to reach young people, have in the words of St Paul “not lost heart” despite acute challenges. Our efforts to partner with others in regeneration schemes like Tottenham Hale has been greeted with enthusiasm while the credibility of the church at the parish level has been recognised by Government financial support in the Near Neighbours project in the East End. Then the recent School of Prayer which attracted hundreds of young people was further evidence of the spiritual hunger of so many who are astonished when they encounter the depth and richness of the church’s experience of prayer.

Time does not permit me to offer many other examples. Between us however we have vast experience of how the City of God is built – the city that is founded on blood given and not blood taken. Simply exchanging insights can be inspiriting but over the next year we need to renew the vision we hold together of how we serve Jesus Christ in this great city. This will not happen by itself and the experience represented in this Cathedral this morning is too valuable to waste. On April 18th we are making a start with Area Deans exploring three questions which will eventually be put to the whole church in every part of the Diocese.

The questions are:-

  • What is the Spirit saying to us in the life of London
  • Where does the Church invest effort and resources at present?
  • In what ways do we need to rethink and act differently?

The intention is to distil our various conversations around these questions and to publish a “Capital Vision 2020? in time for it to be adopted by the Diocesan Synod in the spring of next year. It will then be launched at a great assembly of the Diocese in this Cathedral on June 2013 when we shall also be commissioning the Churchwardens from every area.

We have deliberately tried to restrict the number of Diocesan and indeed national initiatives. I know that they can be irritating. But this is an Add-up exercise not Add-on, a distillation of the understanding we have been given as a Church of how to serve in 21st century London.

There is however a danger. The conversation could simply lead to an intensification of activism. Nothing lasting will be achieved and the spiritual evolution of the human race prefigured by the anointed Son of God will not be advanced without an increase in profound and simple prayer – the prayer that dispels illusions and nourishes mutual love and humility.

We shall be facing a number of contentious issues in the coming year. If from whatever point of view we come we behave like partisans in some political struggle then we shall not be building the City of God but undermining it. If we can keep our eyes fixed on what we are called to be and do together then mutual love and the spirit of service will carry us through.

The exhortation of St Vincent de Paul which is printed in the service paper seems to speak powerfully to our times.

“The spirit of the world is restless and wishes to do everything. Let us leave it to itself. Let us have no desire to choose our own paths but walk in those which God may be pleased to prescribe for us. Let us regard ourselves as unworthy that he should make use of us or that others should think of us and then all will be well with us. Let us offer ourselves to him to do and to suffer all things for his glory and the establishment of the Church. He asks for nothing else. If he desires results they rest with him and not with us.

“Let us courageously extend the confines of our heart and will in his presence and let us not decide on doing this thing or that until God has spoken.”

So be it Lord. Amen

About Richard Chartres

The Rt Revd Richard Chartres KCVO was the 132nd Bishop of London from November 1995 until March 2017.

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