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Talk 4 Standing together

Humanity raised and lifted up


Wednesday April 1st

We are on the way to Easter. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday,


and next week is Holy Week in which we follow the Lord through his
passion to the cross of Good Friday, and onward through it to Easter
morning.

1. Christ raised
Christ has been raised. His resurrection previews ours and
anticipates the redemption of all creation in the holy communion of
God. Christ has brought us together in this single everlasting
communion, the only part of which we can see, by faith, is the
Church. When we identify only other people’s sin and despise some
part of the Church because of it, we fail to recognise Christ. But if
we look at the world through Christ’s passion, we are able to see
past this sin which is ours as much as theirs, to discover that Christ
has joined all these sinful people to himself, and is redeeming and
glorifying both them and us. The unreconciled world divides and
wounds itself away helplessly: the cross is the image of this
tormented world. As it travels through it, the Church asks the world
why it puts itself through this pain. The world throws at the Church
whatever contradictions and accusations it does not know how to
deal with, and the Church takes whatever the world inflicts on it,
and in this way undergoes a long Lent, a Passover.

Today we will look at how the Church stands, dwells and abides. The
Church is constituted by the resurrection now and in eternity. Christ
is the rock. The Church stands on this rock while the tide rages
around and strips away whatever does not belong to it. Though
everything else disappears, the Church remains. For these many
centuries, the Christian people have stood in here in this city, while
the world gathers around or scatters from it. Do not imagine that
the Church was once some vast political power: in every age
Christians have been, at most, the ‘salt’ and the ‘yeast’, and have
very often made their contribution against great resistance.

2. Christ raises man


Christ lifts man to God and God receives man from Christ. God has
taken hold of man, holds him now, and will hold him finally in an
eternal relationship. In this eucharist Christ raises mankind and
offers him to God, who receives him so that he is sustained forever
in his holy communion. In this prayer and act of elevation we have a
snapshot of the eternal relationship of man to God: we are lifted up
to God and received by him.

We said that the first aspect of the eucharist was the gathering of
the body of Christ, the second was the giving and opening of that

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body, the third was its sending. Now the fourth aspect is that this
body is raised and perfected by Christ. Christ lifts man and all
creation with him, and this raising and offering is his service. Christ
serves: he serves God, and he serves us. We glimpse his twofold
service in each service of Christian worship. We even participate in
this unceasing service of his for, in this eucharist, we are also able
to offer Christ to God, and to offer ourselves to one another, and to
offer ourselves to the world as his body. Christ is dressing us with his
own glory. When we are gathered here in Christ, the whole
communion of God and so all the Christians who have been and
who will be, are present to us. Christ brings them to us and enables
to receive them from him, and so he is raising and glorifying his
Church. The Church that is pushed down is lifted up by Christ – mind
you, only the Church that is pushed down will be raised.

3. Public service
The Christian community sings the worship of God, and this involves
it in periodic withdrawal from the world. Through this worship and
withdrawal, Christians develop self-judgment, self-discipline and self-
government. We saw that the leaders of civil society clustered
gathered around the Church because they knew that they benefited
from the practices of self-judgment, self-restraint and self-
government that are practised by the Church. The love and mutual
service of Christians flows out of the Church and into public service.
Their self-government and public service creates civil society.
Because this nation and its rulers have listened to this God-
worshipping community, and received, at least at second-hand, the
judgment and forgiveness of God, our national history has been a
movement, slow and erratic, from tribalism and violence to unity
and peace.

Government is that particular form of public service that allows us to


serve and provide for one another. A government preserves the
conditions in which everyone of us can act well by reducing the
obstacles to our own generous and public action. It does not provide
for us what we can provide for one another. The Church commends
our public servants and encourages them to serve us well. But the
Church does not tell people to be good, or shout at governments or
suggest that more funding is the solution to any problem.

Christian baptism makes us self-controlled persons, no longer


entirely propelled by our passions. Christians understand that,
because our passions are primarily ours, each of us is our own worst
enemy. No one can do as much harm to us as we can do to
ourselves. As long as we blame others for not giving us what we
demand, we endanger ourselves and endanger our environment
too.

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The ability to say ‘no’ to our own immediate desires is the
irreplaceable gift given to Christians. It is the first step to freedom.
Only when we manage some self-mastery, can we act well towards
one another. The true judge can release us from our sin and give us
mastery of our passions. Through baptism we are freed to love and
to act. We can act first for ourselves, then for our families and then
more widely. We may become disciples, and givers of ourselves, and
freely embrace an evangelical poverty. Only through Christian
baptism and within this Christian community and its discipleship are
we freed to acquire this self-control. This baptism means that we are
no longer driven by ‘needs’, or by resentment, so we are no longer
consumers, or victims or service-users, and this has immediate and
positive political, economic and ecological outworking. As long as at
least some in it receive the justice and forgiveness of God, this
nation will find the resources to recover from these crises. But if it
has no appetite for the disciplines of self-government things will not
continue as before. Without hearing this truth this nation will
meander back towards violence and tribalism again.

4. Panicked society
Many are ready to agree that our society is not doing very well at
the moment. But who would be so tactless, so insensitive, as to
suggest that societies can die? Who but us? It is exactly the job of
the Church to ask our society whether it wants to live, or wants to
die.

We are anxious. Our leaders are concerned that we could talk


ourselves into terminal decline. They want to talk us out of our
fears, so they assure us that with these strong international policy
initiatives and some patience, things will right themselves. They are
mistaken. Things do not right themselves, because the economy is
not some vast mechanism that turns around on its own, but it is just
the sum of our acts. Some of our fears are well-founded. Only
prolonged examination of the attitudes and behaviour of everyone
of us, exposure to judgment and our repentance, can help us avoid
the worst consequences of our own actions.

Liberal democracy is anchored in the great tradition of Christian


political thought and practice. Parts of this vast tradition are always
being bowdlerised into different agendas and slogans, but it
nonetheless belongs to the Church, that is, to the community of
Christian discipline and discipleship. This tradition of ethics makes
sense within that community. Outside, it has only a derived sense.
Here we have individual campaigns against poverty, for the
environment, against capitalism, for regulation. As long as we are
angry about other people’s sins, without asking for forgiveness and
release from our own, all our politics is mere self-disgust and
shouting. Without exposure to the truth, to which the Church is

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witness, this society’s distress will increase and our passions
become less constrained.

The society that does not acknowledge this elementary principle of


self-government does not allow its government to remain within its
own proper limits. We all push government beyond its mandate.
Because we cannot say ‘no’ to ourselves we do not deign to receive
a ‘no’ from any other authority. Each interest group claims to be
needy and neglected: it claims its bailout, and no appears on behalf
of the state to be anyone strong enough to resist. As often as we go
to the government we extend and over-extend the powers of
government, and reduce its real authority and legitimacy, and push
government and society as a whole a little further towards political
paralysis and economic bankruptcy.

The previously doughty capitalists of our financial industries have


got in the on the act, assuming that national governments will also
save them from the consequences of their actions. They have come
to abandoning any intrinsic self-control and so given up investment
for gambling. The unprecedented recklessness of some finance
houses may have reached to large-scale fraud, so we cannot tell
how truthful any balance sheet is. Our financial leaders have not
only been able to interpret the codes to make their own self-
regulation ineffective, but though some may have broken the law,
the ‘cognitive capture’ of government by finance means that no
charges have been brought. The relationship between corporations,
banks and government has become so intimate that the
foundational covenant of government with people is threatened by
it. Without the processes that are both legal – trial, conviction and
punishment – and moral – judgment, repentance, and eventual
forgiveness – there will be no restoration of confidence.

Since they have decided that they cannot receive, however much at
second-hand, the self-government that originates with the Church,
our political leaders are in a panic. The state that does not
acknowledge the primacy of self-government is trying to push the
Church out of the public square. It tells the Church that it is merely
one ‘faith community’ among others. But the Church replies that,
though there be many faith communities, there is only one that
threatens us. The government that is over-extended and looks round
for ideological justification for why it should become more so, is
itself a ‘faith community’. Because they do not condescend to
recognise the covenant from which all our many distinct covenants
come, everything governments do substitutes for our own love and
initiative and action. Their equality agenda attempts to flatten every
specific covenant, bringing each individual into direct relationship
with the state, so that the relationship each of us has with the state
is more important than any other relationship that we have inherited
or entered freely. Their determination to solve our problems drives

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them to do things for us and instead of us, so taking away our
motivation to do things for one another or for ourselves.

Christians do not encourage anyone to turn to the state, particularly


when excessive demands become pillage of the state. Only the
Christian finally has the resources to prevent himself from making
himself dependent on the state and assimilated by it, for the sake of
all others. The society that cannot restrain its demands has created
this bloated and weakened state. If our demands push the state into
bankruptcy, we may see an economic and political breakdown so
severe that there is no state for the truly needy among us to resort
to. Then we will only have each other. And the Church.

5. Communication
For decades, even generations, our society has been carried forward
by the momentum built up by earlier generations. Now that
momentum is lost, the more ideological of our political leaders are
tempted to believe that our further progress is held back by the
Church, the very community through which all that momentum and
social capital came.

Outside the Church there are all the means of communication but
less and less ability to weigh the truth, and difficulty, and joy of
being human. There is plenty of technology, but little understanding
of the integrity and dignity of the person. There is little to say, but
much shrillness in saying it; the world jabbers feverishly. There is no
end to their imprecations because they have no certainty about
what they should say or that they are heard. They need to hear from
you. Our politicians and media are not the experts. You are the
experts, for to you has been given this gift of Christian discipleship.
When you are gathered in worship, the Lord is here, all previous
generations of Christians here with you, and the whole assembly of
God sits in judgment to discover truth.

Two weeks ago I said that the Church has to withdraw in order to
receive its purification, to be restored as this holy community with
its distinctive voice. We have to receive what our predecessors in
this faith passed on to us. What they gave us was this Prayer Book,
this Lectionary and Scripture and Hymn Book, these buildings, these
practices and this discipleship, and this hard-learned gladness, this
Eucharist, by which we confess the resurrection. They passed on this
faith and this worship. We worship here, we sing and pray these
words, and between times we may consider and practise what we
sing and say in our worship. You do not need any outside expertise
here.

Christian discipleship is spiritual and intellectual discipleship. It is for


us to name the powers. One side is fear and anger, on the other,
faith, hope and love. There is war between these powers, fought in

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part by dedicated lives engaged in a battle of ideas. For a long time
we have fed off the banal and trite, ‘values’ and ‘faith’ as in ‘faith
community’. But this faith brings us up before the truth. It invites us
to come and die. So let us put some deep wells down to reach our
aquifers. Let us draw on what has been saved up by long-ago
generations, the social capital of the Church, the ‘merit of the
saints’. We will need it, because British society is about to wage a
long tug of war, against itself, and the Church will be in the middle.

6. The Church in London


We celebrate the resurrection before London, in the open air and on
the street in every festival of the Church. This Sunday, Palm Sunday,
churches all over London will process through the streets. Next week
is Holy Week. Night falls. The narrow defile of Lent turns into a low
passageway through which we have to crawl. On Good Friday we will
follow the Lord to edge of the abyss, and there we are halted. Only
he can proceed. Then it looks as though even he has been stopped,
as though he has met something more powerful than he. If the way
is closed to him, he is buried and we are too. But come Saturday
evening we look again and see that he has gone. The Lord has
broken through. He is risen, he is not here. Nothing in all creation
can stop him and nothing can put us beyond his reach. So Christ
forges on and takes his people with him through all time. On Easter
morning we will gather on the steps of our cathedral, and then
process inside to receive through baptism those whom the Lord is
adding to our number.

Centuries long Christians have walked and sung from every church
to every church in London, and from the visible form of the Church
to the withdrawn form, and back again, and so the body of Christ is
made visible for London. All London is our holy way. As long as the
Christians process and sing, the culture of this country will receive
the vital transfusion of truth that it needs, political life will revive
and our economy will stagger on. As long as the Christians give
thanks, their confidence will meet the morbidity of our culture and
the death of this society will be forestalled.

Everything outside the Church changes. But here a body of people


stand, and watch and wait. We are on guard duty. We look for every
sign of the reconciliation and redemption of humankind and for the
coming of the Lord. We look out for the threats and dangers to this
society; when new agendas pop up making our politics shriller, we
issue our warning about false messiahs. This little army of the
Church does not shoot back but simply takes the in-coming missiles.
The world throws them because it is in pain, and will be in pain for
as long as its fights the inevitability of its own repentance. But
though, to the world, it never looks strong, the Church is never is
broken. Shoulder to shoulder with us here, the whole Christian
Church stands here for all ages. Look at the reredos, that panel

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behind the altar. It is shaped to resemble the temple in Jerusalem, at
the centre of which is a door. Christ is that doorway, beyond which
the whole company of heaven waits for us. East over that altar we
look towards the whole company of heaven. Though we cannot see
them, they see us. They are the whole communion of God, and we
are that part of that communion that is presently visible to the
world.

Next week your bishop will be here. You will greet him as Christ. This
is how you should treat every Christian, but we can make a start
with this particular Christian. Take hold of your bishop and ask for
his wisdom and his blessing and do not let him go until he gives it
to you. On Maundy Thursday, he will get down on his knees and
wash the feet of his priests, removing from them the burdens that
they have accrued over the year in service to us. They and he work
under acute threat from temptations to which their service to us
exposes them. Like Aaron he will anoint them, so that they can carry
our sins and remain pure. For your sake the Bishop is the presence
of Christ made visible, Christ who has become your servant, got
down on his knees before you, who washes and serves you now and
will do always.

The Gospel tells us that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be
glorified, and he, when he is lifted up from the earth, will draw all
people to himself. As long as the Church remains faithful, and is not
conformed to the world, our society will survive. The Church will
prolong our society’s life. For as long as the Church acts as the salt
the world will be preserved, and as long as the Church is the leaven
the world is raised.

Every time we meet together we practise our gospel together and


receive a little more from this resurrection. It raises us to love. The
long-term political and social outcome of this love, is a society that
is confident, in which people take the risk of restraining themselves
so that they can give themselves utterly to one another. In
anticipation of this great resurrection in which Christ raises us all to
God and to one another, we will gather again on Easter morning
and, for the sake of our entire society, we will say ‘Christ is risen’.