Sunday 5 April 2015

To the Laos – To the People of God, Easter 2015

Dear People of God

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

I wish you all a blessed Eastertide. This year I have recorded a short Reflection for Easter, particularly on the Gospel reading, Mark 16: 1-8, for our new audio ministry on SoundCloud: you can listen to it online, or download it to your computer or mobile device, here >> You can also read my message at the Easter Vigil at St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town here on the blog.

In a significant development in the life of our Church, we recently licensed the Revd Roger Cameron as the Chief Executive Officer of the Anglican Board of Education in Southern Africa (ABESA). I am exhilarated by this move because ABESA has the potential to reclaim the Church's role in education. I congratulate Roger on his appointment, and I urge you all to support and work with ABESA in its threefold objectives:

  • To support existing church schools,
  • To galvanize parish and community involvement, and
  • To establish high quality accessible Christian schools.

For this Ad Laos, I want to share with you my message to the clergy of the Diocese of Cape Town on the occasion of the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, during which we renewed our ordination vows:

Isaiah 61:1-9; Psalm 89:21-27; Luke 4:16-21

May I speak in the name of God, who anoints His only Son –  High Priest of the New Covenant – and gives us a share in His consecration that we might be faithful witnesses to His saving work.  Amen. 

It is wonderful to be amongst all of you at this Service of the Renewal of Vows.  It is a great joy indeed to see almost all clergy and retired clergy of this Diocese. I feel privileged that we are called together to share in His consecration and to be faithful witnesses to His saving power. And I really appreciate the privilege of being here with you all.

My heartfelt thanks to Bishop Garth for his support and outstanding leadership amongst us; to Chapter, kitchen cabinet, diocesan staff and to all, especially the Dean and Canon Precentor who did the preparatory work to make this service a success. We also acknowledge the presence of Bishop Christopher Gregorowski, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond and staff from Bishopscourt.

I don’t know about you, but for me there are occasions when I hear a word, or listen to a hymn, and they stay with me for a long time. When that happens, I will repeatedly return to that word or phrase, or not be able to stop humming the hymn, and this becomes a source of renewal for me for as long as they stick in my mind. I hope that this service will be, for you and for me, a source of renewal.

Recently I chaired an Elective Assembly in the Diocese of the Highveld. I also met with the group of Bishops from around the world called the eco-bishops, who are concerned about the environment.  I then had the opportunity to meet with some of the CAPA Primates and their spouses from different parts of Africa, as well as to license the Revd Roger Cameron as the CEO of the Anglican Board of Education in our own Province.  Throughout these ministries I have pondered the question that I raised at our Synod last year in August, “Who is the Church?”,  and I have also returned to the question: "Who is the Church in the light of the Paschal Mysteries or the Eucharist?"

You know that today is commonly known as the Chrism Eucharist and that we take the opportunity at this service to renew our ordination commitments. So perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves ought to be: What is this Church in which we participate in the saving acts of Christ? Chrism literally means anointing or holy anointing.  Is it appropriate to separate anointing from the inner anointing that we receive  when we partake in Holy Communion?

The song I have been carrying in my heart since the Elective Assembly and through to last weekend – when I drove to Nquthu, near Nkandla, in an area where the Anglo-Zulu Wars, the Battle of the Blood River and Isandhlwana happened  – is the Veni Creator. I keep coming back to those moving words:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face
with the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home:
where thou art guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of Both, to be but One,
that through the ages all along,
this may be our endless song:

Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
I don’t know what song you carry in your heart that transcends whatever you are and are doing, and takes you beyond the everyday and into closer communion with God who anointed His only Son High Priest of the New Covenant.  But as I gather with the faithful in our Province, I find these stanzas particularly renewing in my life. Perhaps the answers to the questions I raised earlier about the nature of the Church lie in this beautiful song.

But to seek our answers, let me first look at our lessons for today, for we always need to study the scripture as our foundation. Deutero-Isaiah says we can faithfully share in Christ's saving works as His viceroy if we are anointed by His Spirit. We can faithfully proclaim the demands of justice and denounce robbery and wrongdoing through the grace of anointing. In fact in Psalm 89:21 we are able to do all these because we have been found and like David anointed or set apart by God.

The Gospel according to Luke, also quoting the Isaiah passage, reminds us that we share in Christ’s work of transformation only because we too are transformed by God’s Holy Spirit. We proclaim because we are constantly renewed by God’s Holy Spirit and through participating in His song of great thanksgiving – the holy Mysteries.

Answering the question of "Who is the Church" invites us to consider our identity as Church. I am struck afresh by John’s passage again and again: "I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). So the Church is the community of the redeemed, drawn together, gathered around the Cross of a raised, resurrected Saviour. We are a community rooted in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ who is anointed to bring God’s healing with joy and compassion.

In my charge to the Diocese last year I said the church is called to be a community which is childlike in its exercise of radical humility; a community whose vocation amongst many is to live and display the true humility which is seen in redemptive actions and attitudes to neighbour, to foe and to all creation. Humility demands that we care less about power, status and wealth, but that we become known for our redemptive actions and attitudes towards our not only our brothers and sisters, but Colossians 1:20 demands that we care for all of God’s creation.

In the self-understanding of Church as holy, that is, anointed or set apart, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells; as Catholic, from which the good news of transformation is proclaimed at all times; and as Apostolic  – because it follows the teachings of Christ and carries its mission to all  –  I want to look at that which sustains us, at that which is our song, at that which is our food for the journey for today, the Chrism Mass.

Of course I know that the Holy Spirit sustains us, as I said  earlier. But I want briefly to look at the Eucharist.  

At the Palm Sunday service at St Margaret’s, Mafitleng, in the  Nquthu area, we had more than 2,000 adults. More than 950 children came for a blessing. It was a great celebration of Palm Sunday in which we reflected on the crucifixion of our Lord and on how he was taunted, "Save yourself, and come down from the cross!" and, when he did not, the chief priests and the scribes also mocked him saying he saved others but could not save himself. As we offered more than 2,000 parishioners and a significant number of clergy from that archdeaconry the Body of Christ and the Cup of Salvation, we kept on saying, "the Body of Christ, broken for you” because of course we know that nobody wants to be broken. No one wants to hang on the Cross for the sake of the other.

Recently I was teaching my wife how to ride a bicycle. The first attempt was successful. She asked for a break to digest the new principles that she had learned. I wanted immediately to go into the second attempt because the principles as far as I was concerned were obvious. She reluctantly agreed. But I had not finished teaching her everything, for I had omitted to point out where the brakes were. So when she set off with me holding the seat and started peddling so fast that I wanted her to slow down, I had to resort to shouting: "Press the things." But if you don't know what the things are, you don't know what to press. So although I kept a firm hold on the seat, the momentum overtook us and we both fell, and she grazed her knees. She was not impressed to say the least.  We don’t want to be broken, not even to be grazed in bicycle falls but in the Body and Blood of Christ which we share today, and in which we share every Sunday, and that I shared in Nquthu, Christ’s presence, Christ's betrayal, Christ's grazing, Christ's  crucifixion and ultimately His resurrection is shared.

As John Suggit beautifully describes the Eucharist, it is the  presence of Christ with us and it bridges the sense of our distance from the saving event of Jesus’s life and death, His resurrection and ascension. In the Eucharist we are renewing Christ, who came as a gift and died for His people on the Cross. We join in His falling, grazing, His whole life and His act of total sharing of self out of love.

Pope Francis says that the Eucharist "is at the heart of 'Christian initiation', together with Baptism and Confirmation, and it constitutes the source of the Church’s life itself" and goes on to call it a Sacrament of love from which flows "every authentic journey of faith, of communion, and of witness."

In the Eucharist, Christ is the spiritual food that we receive, in the form of bread and wine. At the Service of the Eucharist or Great Thanksgiving we gather to listen to the Lord who speaks through sacred Scripture and therefore His Word is also the food that we receive. Wine, bread and Word in the Eucharist become one as at the Last Supper and we share these as the ultimate thanksgiving to God the Father for His mercy.

The celebration of the Eucharist is therefore a big deal today and beyond for us as those who share in His consecration. It is an invitation to participate as faithful witnesses to His saving work; it means that every time we celebrate these Paschal mysteries we participate in the Mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Pope Francis writes beautifully that the Eucharist "is the summit of God’s saving action: the Lord Jesus, by becoming bread broken for us, pours upon us all of His mercy and His love, so as to renew our hearts, our lives, and our way of relating with Him and with our neighbor," and I would add, all of creation.

Archbishop Rowan Williams says that in the Eucharist, God reaches into the centre of who and what we are, our heart. He gives us the grace and the freedom to speak and act from that centre. In the Eucharist, our centre that is, our heart is being renewed in Christ. (

As the Cyprus Agreed Statement of the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue  says: "In the Eucharist the eternal priesthood of Christ is constantly manifested in time. The celebrant, in his (and now we would say her) liturgical action, has a twofold ministry: as an icon of Christ, acting in the name of Christ, towards the community and also as a representative of the community expressing the priesthood of the faithful."

This description is particularly apt for us as we combine the Eucharist with the renewal of vows of the priest who has been found by God and anointed to show forth in His name the sacrifice of our redemption as he sets before God’s family his paschal meal and leads his community in love, nourished by the Word and strengthened with the Sacrament. This also has an element of the task of service, of seeking out particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and lonely and interpreting their needs and concerns and hopes as well as the needs and concerns and hopes of the Church.

So today as we give thanks to God for the Church, for sharing in His saving works, His sacrament and the proclamation of His Word, I want us to spare special thought and prayer for climate justice and for building and fostering Kingdom values, of which Ubuntu values form a part, as we work to fulfill the needs and the aspirations of our society.

May His Word and Sacrament renew and strengthen us to keep His presence alive in the Church and to model God’s world according to our heavenly father’s generosity who invites us to share in His consecration and anointing.  Amen

God bless you,
+Thabo Cape Town

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