Archbishop's Sermon at Eucharist Service, General Synod, February 2006
Tuesday 7th February 2006The Church of England's governing body, the General Synod, met in London in February 2006. Proceedings began with a Eucharist service and the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon is reproduced below.
At first hearing, today's gospel sounds simple. We must not fuss about local and particular things, we must concentrate the energies of our hearts upon God. Never mind the bronze kettles, love God with all your heart. But just in case, Jesus, as usual, turns the tables on us. Just when we're congratulating ourselves on our broad, generous, large devotion to the eternal values, Jesus says 'and just remember that broad generous devotion to eternal values can sometimes be a wonderful alibi for not doing what you've actually got to do in relation to those to whom you have an obligation. So it's no good saying I'd rather serve God than do my duty to my parents'.
As so often, Jesus breaks through the categories we would like to bring. We like to think- or many of us do- in terms of that simple opposition, legalistic religion, which is all about doing the right thing in small particulars, and broad, generous hearted devotion to God. I dare say some of these oppositions may raise their heads in the odd discussion around the place in the next day or two.
But it's not so simple, the law is not about bronze kettles, primarily, it is indeed about the devotion of the heart to God, a devotion that has to be shown in minute particulars. Making of our whole life - our whole being - an offering to God, by his Grace, by his spirit in Jesus Christ is a matter of attending to detail. And it's a matter of attending to detail most particularly in our relationships in what we owe to one another.
Devotion to principle in itself is not an excuse for tearing up relationships any more than exact keeping of the law is an excuse for not giving your heart to God. Jesus, in other words is not going to make things easy for us and that is no surprise and entirely in character. We're reminded of just how easily all of us fall off that particular narrow point of balance on which, it seems, Jesus alone stands with complete confidence. That point where he stands making of his whole being in every relationship, in every particular a peacemaking gift to God in life and death, serving his Father in small particulars. Well, we are going to fall off; we are going to get this wrong; we are not going, of ourselves, to make a perfect offering acceptable to the Father, whether by attention to large hearted generous devotion or attention to particulars. But we are called to stand for a bit; here, where Jesus stands; to stand in his company at his table and to keep our eyes on him sufficiently, for just a bit, not to fall off. We come to the Holy Communion so that he can look us in the eye and hold us steady, just for a moment; steady with his steadiness, that steadiness which makes of his being a complete offering to his Father.
In the Semitic languages the Eucharist is called the corbana - it's the same word - corban - 'given to God'. This is corban; when we bring our concerns, our aspirations, our sins our hopes and our intercessions here where we can stand with Christ and let him hold us in his gaze for a moment, then that is corban; whole corbana - given to God. Not a devotion to God which lets us off the small particulars, not some great general wash of generous feeling towards the transcendent, and not just, either, a nit-picking attention to detail on the grounds that we hope it might please God. Simply being where the Holy is given to God, where Jesus gives himself as corbana to God, and we by the gift of his spirit are drawn into his giving, into his praying, into his seeing, just for a bit.
Yet, without that moment where we let him hold us in his gaze, the rest of our discipleship falls apart completely and we polarise into those easy oppositions with which we started and which Jesus so helpfully and frighteningly explodes for us. Let us, then, stand with him; stand before him; let him hold us in his gaze and let us be drawn by that gaze to the Father, so that ourselves - our souls and bodies - are made by his gift a holy and acceptable: corbana.
© Rowan Williams 2006