These are the notes from the sermon at the Chrism Eucharist for the Diocese of Cape Town, held on Maundy Thursday, 28 March 2013, at St Aidan's, Lansdowne.
‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news…’ (Lk 4:16)
This morning I want to share with you something of my personal spiritual journey so far this year.
But let me first say ‘Thank you’: to all of you in this Diocese, for the part you play – often in the little things you do – so that God may be revealed in, through, and among, you. Especial thanks to Bishop Garth, who, I like to say, does all the practical work so I can spend more time in prayer! A deep thank you to him, and to Chapter, for taking on the every-day business of the Diocese.
Normally, after the busyness of Christmas, I’ve hardly recovered of the past year when New Year holidays are over, and it is back to work again. This year was wholly different. I went ‘into the desert’, travelling to a secluded place in rural Wales. For 38 days I stayed in a tiny room, with the most beautiful views over the mountains of Snowdonia, the Irish Sea, and, if I dared put my head out into the snowy cold, Liverpool.
I travelled to this secluded place in order to make an inward journey – in order to explore what God was wanting to do in my life.
The journey, the retreat, began with an invitation to recognise, and accept more fully, the enormity of God’s love – and to recognise and accept more fully, the enormity of our need of God and God’s love. I found this, in itself, a profound challenge. I realised that, as Archbishop, it is far too easy to fall into seeing myself as ‘playing God’, for in so many ways I find myself as a ‘last court of appeal’ with people asking ‘Archbishop, please decide for us.’
Through the 30-day retreat, we followed various themes, and were guided in our reflections by the Bible, with texts from Genesis and creation, onwards. We spent more than week ‘walking with Jesus’, in Spirit-led prayerful imagination, with passages from the Annunciation through his life and ministry.
The way God met me, challenged me, and changed me, was strange, even weird, but amazingly powerful. Often it was very uncomfortable, because I know that I like to be cerebral, and to think about these passages and what they convey. But it was as if God kept saying ‘Thabo, I want you to feel what is happening!’
Letting myself connect with the feelings that these passages stirred up in prayer, touched my innermost being, in healing and liberating ways. I am still trying to make sense of these encounters with, and lessons from, God – and expect I will go on absorbing them, drawing on these deep wells, for the rest of my life. Some of what I encountered shook me to the core of my being, as passages I thought I knew well, and had preached and taught, impacted upon me in new ways, with new meaning.
Palm Sunday, Holy Week, the Passion
As we reflected on Jesus’ ministry, we had prayed to be called to love and serve others as he does. Then we came to pray through the Passion. At this point, the way we approached our prayers changed. We were ‘to watch and observe’. For someone like me, who I often think has undiagnosed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, because I am always looking for action, this was very hard.
We asked God for the grace to help us, in our prayer times, to see Jesus more clearly– so that we might grasp more fully all he has done, and at what cost. We asked to be ‘taken captive’ by the readings and live inside them.
For, when we have a greater understanding of what it means for Jesus to be incarnate, take on mortality, and embrace sin, suffering and death, then we have a greater capacity to grasp the promise of resurrection and redemption: newness of life in our humanity, in the face of our sin, suffering, mortality.
If you had asked me to talk about the incarnation, I would readily have done so, with help from google, and drawing on various papers where I’ve written and spoken about it in the past. But now we were invited to walk alongside the incarnate Son of God, to smell, touch, taste, feel, the challenges that he faced, as he embraced sin, suffering and death – including our own sin, and the sin of the world of which we are a part.
My spiritual director invited me to mourn and weep for my own sin, and the corporate sin around. I said to him that he should have asked the opposite, because often when I should weep, I dry up, and when I should dry up, I weep. But I found myself walking around the hills of North Wales, crying and crying, often for things I’d thought were dealt with in my life. I even cried for things that happened before I was born, such as the beheading of King Makgoba in 1895, and the fact that his head has still not been found.
I felt touched by sins of the past, and old hurts, that I thought I’d put behind me. Perhaps I had, in my head. But many pains were still buried deep. And in our week of praying through the Passion, God brought them to the surface, to my conscious awareness.
And he challenged me to bring each one to the cross – to the illuminating light of Christ, which liberates us from sin and death into newness of life. I have now come back feeling I have found a true freedom, able to walk as my true self with Jesus.
The Call to Serve Jesus – 1 – Renewed Vocation
It may sound odd for an Archbishop to say this – but I feel fresh, I feel renewed, in my vocation.
When I look back, I can see that I had often been trapped in understanding ordination too much as being about ‘doing’, about being a ‘professional’. And so I worked hard at the best presiding at the Eucharist with every detail correct, making the best pastoral visits, conducting the best funerals… At times, it was as if I saw myself as a sort of NGO in the religious sector.
It felt as if I’d got my mandate from God, and now he could step back while I got on with it myself. But this retreat helped me see what I had been doing, and has changed that perspective, I hope, for ever.
God touched my heart with an amazing sense of the privilege of ordained ministry. This is something of course I’d known in my head – but I’d never integrated my head with my heart in this way before.
God calls us in a remarkable way. He invites us to allow ourselves to be set apart, for a particular life of faithfulness. It is above all, fidelity to God, the Holy Trinity – and to abide in God’s love, as those days in St Beuno’s enabled me to do in a new way. Through abiding in their love, we come to see and hear and feel, more clearly, more dearly, the God who is Trinity
We also come see and hear the Trinity in ourselves, and in other people who are also made in God’s image. When we truly see the beauty of God in others, and in nature, we can serve God in them in new ways. Indeed, it is as if I and the other are together caught up into the love of the Trinity, as the ‘God in me’; and ‘God in the other’ resonate together in holy love. This is a very precious mystery.
My spiritual director, Stan, who was in a wheelchair, insisted that I spend time drawing what I was feeling through my praying. I objected! How can one draw what is abstract? But he was adamant that I should draw them, or take clay and mould them. Well, I worked at it, and though I cannot say that I came back having discovered a hidden artistic talent, I did discover what it means for creativity – and also walking – to be part of my praying life.
When I came home, my daughter, who knows that I am prone to talking at length in abstract ways, asked me ‘Dad, in summary, what did you do while you were away all that time?’ I said ‘I was caught up in a precious mystery.’ ‘Yes, Dad, but what did you DO?’ Ignatian spirituality is sometimes described as ‘A mysticism of love and service’. It encourages us to express the love of God in deeds, more than in words; and prayer is fundamental in our ability to do this. But unless we pray with resolve to work for justice and peace in society, we will find our praying and our whole prayer life lacks a vital element.
Throughout our retreat we were encouraged to pray for the graces of openness, humility and freedom – especially freedom to step back from being driven by status, power and wealth. So I have returned to Cape Town feeling a little bit wobbly – wanting to be faithful to what I have learnt in the context of the Diocese, the Province, and Southern Africa. I am praying that I can still strive and pray to know that openness, humility and freedom in my life and ministry here.
It was a particular privilege to be in England last week, and participate in the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a chance to weave in all that comes from my Anglican roots and identity with what I have been learning on my St Beuno’s journey.
The Call to Serve Jesus – 2 – The Life of Ministry
You may have been reading about Pope Francis and his Jesuit spirituality, with its focus on deep prayer and discernment that is then lived out in serving others, especially the poor. It is rooted in precisely these ‘Spiritual Exercises’ I have undertaken.
I know we all have different spiritualities, but if you can, I do urge you to find time to ‘go into the desert’ for such an encounter with God in some way. For when we experience his love this deeply, and feel ourselves carried by his love, then we will be enabled to share his love in the life of ministry.
This is an important balance to remember – because, on retreat, there is a particular joy of being ‘in the desert’, away from all the hassles of everyday life, family, parish, church, etc! And I certainly came back to find an awful lot going on, and a lot of catching up to do. There was the heartbreak of so many deaths. Anene Booysen, the Mozambican Taxi driver, and Reeva Steenkamp, so tragically killed by our sporting star. were just the tip of the iceberg.
I came back to find the Farlam Commission still unfolding, with heart-breaking agony, the events at Marikana. Around the world, Syria remains in desperate chaos, with millions, half of them children, suffering – and we hope the BRICS summit this week will make a difference so aid can get to them.
I found I had missed Jacob Zuma’s state of nation address, and I even missed one of our own parishioner’s [Mamphela Ramphele’s] launch of a new political platform. More than that, I had also missed the test series v Pakistan, and the kangaroo-meat-in-boerewors scandal!
But the over-riding lesson of my retreat is that God, in his redeeming love, is everywhere. Nothing is beyond his care, or his desire to bring healing and new life to you, to me, to everyone. Indeed, one of the overriding lessons I learnt on retreat is that wherever we most find a need for resurrection, that is where we are most likely to find Jesus at work, and our own invitation to join him.
The Call to Serve Jesus – 3 – Equipping for Ministry
This was a huge undertaking – once in a lifetime. It is definitely not to be attempted more than once a decade! Earlier this week, I was speaking with someone who followed this 30-day retreat 15 years ago, and says that she is still drawing on that time. Not all of us can do it, but all of us can keep walking the journey of deeper inner exploration, led by God.
Within ACSA we have designated 2013 as ‘The Year of Theological Education’. This is not only for our educating heads, but for our whole formation. We need to spend time with God, to let ourselves be challenged, let God take us outside our comfort zones.
Perhaps you can read a book that stirs us up. Perhaps, instead of going to Wales, you can make a pilgrimage, even to Zonnebloem where Bernard Mizeki was baptised. Perhaps you should go to where you were born, or the place from which you were forcibly removed, and claim it in prayer: feel and claim and own the pains that you still carry, and then bring them to the cross so you can find healing for the hurt, and be set free to move on. Perhaps you can go to the Holy Land – though, I emphasise, not as a tourist! We need to travel ‘naked before God’, with a Bible in one hand, and newspaper in other
May today – at Maundy Thursday services this evening, Good Friday, Easter – be the first steps of this journey for you.
As I conclude, I am thankful that I have been able to hold in check the welter of emotions around this journey that I have made, while still being able to share with you something of the depths of what I have felt and experienced on this journey.
Today we are here to renew our ordination vows: to hear afresh his call of love to us
• We say Yes: to this privilege of profound mystery, lives set apart for fidelity and grace.
• We say Yes: to let God love us more, and catch us up into the life of the Trinity
• We say Yes: to let God heal us more, to bring us greater liberty, freedom
• We say Yes: to let God reveal himself to us more deeply, in ourselves, in others
• We say Yes: to letting ourselves be called to join in Christ’s redeeming work
‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news...’