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Chrism Mass: Celebrating the ministry of the people of God

The Chrism Mass held on Maundy Thursday celebrates the ministry of the whole people of God, espcially those who worship and minister in this diocese of Oxford and invites congregants to reaffirm their commitment to service.

Bishop Gavin gave the sermon at the service held at Christ Church Cathedral. To see a gallery of photographs from the day, visit the diocese Facebook page.

Chrism Eucharist

As you leave the service this morning, a reminder that those who signed up for them are invited to collect a tree sapling to take home and plant, as a sign of our environmental commitment and concern. I think that’s a wonderful balance as you take home in one hand today oils, a sign of God’s grace and God’s presence, and in the other hand the saplings, a sign of life and growth, and of our hope in the future, and our commitment to be bringers of life to that future.

I want to reflect with you for a few minutes now on the three Bible readings that the lectionary has given us for our Chrism Eucharist Service this year: three readings that I think bring out different aspects of the Maundy Thursday narrative that perhaps we don’t often reflect on, that we jump over in the sweep of activity in Holy Week as the Gospel events build up to Jesus’ arrest, his trial and to the Crucifixion. 

First, from our Old Testament reading: Samuel anointing David in Bethlehem. We know this passage well, and that wonderful central verse: “The Lord does not look at the things that people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”, v.7.

But the thing that most struck me from this passage as I read it in preparation for this sermon, was something that I think I’ve over-looked before: The repeated sense of fear that there is in the opening section: First, God tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint the chosen king who would replace God’s rejected Saul.  And Samuel, that great prophet of faith, responds: “But how can I go?  If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

And then, in the same way, when Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, the elders of the town meet him with fear and trembling and nervously ask: “Do you come in peace?”

And I wonder:  Does God at times call us to do things for him that make us fearful?
And are there perhaps times when the ministry we bring might cause fear to others?

Well, at those times, we need to assure them – and also to demonstrate – that we come in peace and that we are mediators of peace. And we need to ensure our ministry is led by God and that its fruit – as it was with Samual’s anointing of David here – is of the Holy Spirit coming down and being released in and on and through those we minister to and serve.

How do we do that? – Well, turning to our epistle reading, to 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, above all else, we need to be people who reflect God’s glory – in our worship, in our attitudes, in our relationships, in our life together, and in our witness. St. Paul’s wonderful “cracked pot” analogy here, often leads preachers to show pictures of the Japanese craft of Kintsugi, where cracked pots are put back together with golden glue, so that the end result is something more beautiful than how the pot, or the bowl, started – and often the plate of the pot is, perhaps perversely,  deliberately broken in the first place so that it can be glued back in that way. And Kintsugi bowls are beautiful – they can be stunning. But I’m not at all convinced that they are a helpful image for us to have in mind when we respond to what St. Paul writes to the Corinthians here: For the calling here isn’t that we should try to fill all our cracks with gold, but rather – and far more powerfully, I think – that we might be content to let our cracks – our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities – remain – not so that we can exploit them in one another, or so that we can attack those we disagree with and seek to deepen and pull even further apart those cracks, those points of apparent weakness.

No: The intention here is that God’s Spirit – who is in us – can shine out through those cracks – through our points of vulnerability and weakness. For God is seen most clearly in us not where we feel able or competent or strong, but where we know we haven’t got the answer, or the ability, or the strength, and when we are utterly dependent on God.

And it’s sadly very pertinent for our church life today that Paul says here that therefore it’s a big “No!” to looking to our own cleverness and tactics – especially, v.2, when they are deceitful of self-promoting.  Rather, our calling is to preach Jesus, v.5, pointing people to Jesus, and, v.6, God has indeed made his light shine in our hearts, but he does so NOT to make us feel warm and holy and glorious, but so that his light might shine out of our cracks – our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities – and shine into the darkness of the world and illuminate the lives of those around us. 

Which brings us to our Gospel reading – the part of the Last Supper narrative we most often jump over – that even as Jesus was instigating Holy Communion, the disciples began arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was the greatest: – cracked pots indeed! – v.24 again: “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest.” Now, doesn’t that have all too obvious contemporary church relevance!

But, no: Of course, Jesus says they – we – shouldn’t be like that: His call is to humility and servanthood – that’s the example he sets for us.  And, yes indeed, we have great and wonderful heavenly expectations: We are made great – glorious – in Christ, vv.29 and 30, our destiny is to be made kings and honoured guests in the heavenly banquet, and sitting on thrones in judgment. – That is indeed the power and might of the Gospel we hold!

But how are we to exercise that power now?  How should we display the glory of our status as treasured sons and daughters of God? – v.27: In humility and self-giving, as those who serve. And as John records Jesus saying in his account of the Last Supper, Jesus has set us an example, that we should do as he has done for us. 

So: May this be our calling, our commitment and our practice this Eastertide: That we might live and minister in humility; in vulnerability; in total dependence on God. God who looks at the heart. God who shines through our cracks.  And God who walked to the cross, such was the depth of his love for us.

And as we follow the example he sets before us – as we pick up our cross and follow him – then we will find that that is the path of true discipleship, true faithfulness and true glory. Amen.

Page last updated: Thursday 28th March 2024 5:22 PM
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