Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
It is good to be in time, and to celebrate these ends and beginnings in our morning and evening prayer. These boundaries of day and night mark out our time for us, allow us to work and to stop working, and to look back and forward.
We are preparing for Easter. At Easter God completes his act of creation by raising one of us. The one he raises has attached himself to all the rest of us, so the raising of the first is the beginning of the raising of the whole lot, all humanity, each of us joined to every other. This human being is complete continuity with us but is now no longer constrained by our biological limits, so his life is not given its form by death, as ours is. He is now able to pass his life on to us without limit. Easter is a preview of the consequences of this for us: Christ’s resurrection is a preview of our resurrection, which is the moment when our boundaries between us and him, and between us and one another, cease to be an end, like death, and instead become just markers, like day and night.
Raised from the dead, Christ is the whole colossal future of humankind. He is our future, present here for us to get used to. In every Church service Christ is the one doing the work. He is praying to the Father, and it is our privilege to listen and join in. He takes away from us what we cannot manage, all those half-truths and misdirected worship, and sends it all to God for its redemption and renewal.
Christ is the universal person. He calls and names, hears and waits for all, he works for all and draws all to make them human, together. The work he is engaged in here is to make us compatible with one another, holy, catholic persons, his communion of saints. He makes himself present to us by making all these other persons, who will together make up our future, present to us.
The Son stands at the front of every Church service, and presents us to God. So when you look up the Church you are seeing Christ holding out to us all the elements of our future selves. We see first the book of Scripture, and then the bread and cup, the Word of God which is also the sacrament, the power of God to make us holy. All the good things that are coming to us are made visible and tangible to us here in these small tokens. There are many ways of spelling this out; the bread is our humanity as it is, tattered and ragged, made of the created earth as we find it, and the wine is humanity as it is with Christ, in complete relation with the Father and thereby fully human. But bread and wine are just the visible front end of the whole created order that serves us and brings us first into existence and then into the communion of God.
You see of course the figure who holds out the bread and cup to us, the priest. Christ makes himself present to us in the strange form of one of us, dressed in the dark cassock of Christ’s poverty and humiliation, and the bright white surplice of humanity made radiant: in that combination we are hologram of ourselves as we are, poor, and as we will be, radiant.
So Christ makes himself present as these elements, and this priest. It wouldn’t be right if we left it like that, for the priest is no priest without the people. That figure up at the front represents all of us with Christ. What Christ chiefly gives us is people, along with the means to receive them, not simply as they presently are, but as they will be. He is the whole human, and the universal human-to-human mediator, who is now opening us up so we can receive one another as gifts of God, and together become members of the vast company that he presents to the Father. He does the work here and we are his passengers. Christ makes himself present in the words that fill our mouths. When we sing Christ’s words we are possessed by the future, in his person.
There are plenty of good resources on these issues of eucharist, church and ministry. Recent crises have brought out some clear statements from the Anglican Communion about the sending and receiving apostles from the worldwide church and learning from them to become a single, holy, catholic and apostolic people. Here are three tiny sound-bites from the Anglican Communion website. One: The bishop serves the communion of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit; Two: The bishop’s evangelical office of proclamation and witness is a fundamental means by which those who hear the call of God become one in Christ; Three: The bishop is a teacher and defender of the apostolic faith that binds believers into one body.
The Anglican Communion is teaching us here that the whole Church sends each part of the Church a gift – and that gift is an actual living apostle, whom we call the bishop, from episcope, meaning oversight, because he represents the oversight of the whole Church on us. He is the communion of saints conveniently made available to us as one person. Because he is well versed in the whole gift of Christ given to the historical church from the earliest time until now, he can open the Scriptures with the experience of the whole church, and so he brings the whole Christ to each congregation.
It is the bishop’s job to make sure that what we hear and see here is also explained to us. This service, which is Christ’s service first and our service second, is a reasonable sacrifice, an articulate rational public event. What Christ and we are explaining – and inviting people to – is their own real identity. The mission to explain what is going on here does not begin after the service: but must be part of what is going on in the service. The service extends itself into everyday ordinary time, because we do not leave the service so much as take the service with us wherever we go. Each of us is this church service in person, the presence of the company of God, made visible in one person, for the world.
Our life here is the holy life. If we are holy the world will see it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes the Church holy, and only the holiness of the Christian people can hold out to the world what it does not yet have. If we do not feast on the whole Word and power of God we let down our society, and are too weak and confused to be able to help them for whom we have been put here. But if we tune out the noises of the world for a bit, we will hear heaven, which is all the earth wants to hear.
What is it we repent of in Lent? We repent of being an untaught church, that substitutes activism for worship, that assumes that it is more inclusive than those who came before us. This cup we drink sometimes is bitter, because there is confession, repentance, even penance in the mix. We must dump at the altar our belief that we know better than the historic Church and let it go. What is it we give up in Lent? We turn down the volume on the world, and in particular on its media, and for these few weeks opt out of their celebration so we can prepare for our celebration – so that at Easter, we can be together in good array, in this place, stopping the traffic with our Palm Sunday songs – so our society can see a holy people and be glad.
So, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his return I urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
You, Israel, “You are my servant, I have chosen you”; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.