A Chrism Mass Sermon preached by Bishop Peter Wheatley

‘The glory you have given to me I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one.’   John 17.22

I have enjoyed some glorious visits to churches in your care –

the Sunday morning confirmation at St Olave’s, Mitcham and other similar confirmations, the village church at Higham so beautifully decorated for Christmas and the patronal festival, where one gazes out of the window over the peaceful marshes of the Thamas estuary, the Armistice Day commemoration in Rotherhithe with the children from the local schools participating so solemnly, the restoration of the living at the Ascension, Lavender Hill, and the many joyful beginnings of ministry – Hoxton, Kenton, and twice in Beckenham recently.   ‘The glory you have given me I have given them….’  

When you greet the congregation assembled before you on Maundy Thursday, think of this text and gives thanks.   God’s glory shines in his people and by your faithful ministry, especially in celebrating the sacraments, you ensure that the tarnishing is burnt off and the light shines through filled with the life-energies of the living Lord.   Not everyone can do the job of a parish priest.   The great William Temple was once parish priest down the road at St James’s but as his biographer puts it, he wasn’t entirely suited to the task.    ‘He did not possess for all his deep spirituality and human concern, that something elusive which goes into the making of a parish priest, not least the small talk:  the consuming interest in the arthritic knee: the sensitivities to the idiosyncrasies of ordinary people whose potential needs to be imaginatively discerned before it can be creatively elicited.’   We watch for the gifts which God gives to his people and the ensure that they are used to his glory.

Under the former covenant, after the covenant has been forged at Sinai, the glory of God that dwells on the mountain comes to rest in the Tabernacle where the ark resides.   Under the new covenant ‘The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us and we beheld his glory….’   That glory now shines through his people – but I know this can stretch the imagination sometimes.

‘Can these dry bones live?’ That text came to me some time ago when I was in St Michael’s, Mill Hill.   A group of fine young candidates stood before me for Confirmation and I then invited the sponsors to come forward – at which there was much scraping of chairs and clattering of sticks, and a group of elderly women hobbled towards the front.   I thought to myself – what kind of an impression is this giving of the Church to visitors? – until I remembered how some ten or twelve years before a group of grandmothers had noticed how young mothers were having to cope with toddlers during Mass and had got together to offer to run a crèche and then later a Sunday School.   It was then entirely natural that the young people should later choose as their sponsors those who had nurtured them in the faith.

‘The glory you have given me I have given them, that they may be one…’ It’s the latter part of the text that seems a tall order in the Church as she is.   Of course we can distinguish between organic unity and that unity in courtesy and charity which should mark all our dealings with those of the household of faith.   But when unity seems an impossibility, think ‘comm-unity’.   As a Church we have to look outwards beyond our own narrow quarrels.   The world faces huge environmental challenges which add to the omnipresent challenge of poverty in a world with an ever-growing population.   ‘Whoever is not against us is for us,’ says the Lord (Mark 9.40).   We need constantly to look for new partners.  Various local examples of community partnerships have been in local fairtrade projects, in setting up community choirs and in fair wage campaigns with local groups from London Citizens.   One of the most fruitful developments recently in north London, which I mentioned last year, has been the participation of churches in winter night shelter projects, now established in many boroughs.    A parish priest wrote to me recently: ‘The Night Shelter has been one of the best things we have done in recent years.   It has brought lots of new people into contact with the Church and some have started coming on a regular basis.   It has really inspired members of the congregation and helped everyone get to know one another.   It has boosted the Church’s profile locally and most of all, it has been a genuine pleasure to help serve our neighbours in times of need.’

‘Father, may they be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ – the challenge is the same as Jesus himself faced, and by no means all were convinced then, that people may see that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s word and his teaching the key to human and humane living – the way, the truth and real life.

As we renew our vows, have confidence in your priestly ministry amidst God’s people who shine with his glory.   Yes – we have to stand for what we believe, but it is a matter of priorities. Set your face against losing energy in intense, internal disagreements in the Church but rather stand in the presence of God’s glory, see the challenge that Jesus Christ is presenting to the world and discover who can be community partners in our service of others.   ‘He did not say you shall not be tossed by the tempest.  You shall not be weary of work.   You shall not be discomforted.   But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’

‘The glory that you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be on.   May they be one in us that the world may believe that you sent me.’

Bishop Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Fulham and Edmonton