Sermon at the enthronement of Rt Revd Bernard Ntahoturi as Archbishop of Burundi
Friday 15th July 2005An address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium, Bujumbura, Burundi.
I greet you in the name of Jesus. We are gathered to ask God's blessing on the new ministry of Bishop Bernard, and to give thanks to God for the faithful ministry of Archbishop Samuel.
Today in our reading from the gospel we have the words by which both Archbishops, all bishops and all pastors present must learn to live. Jesus, risen from the dead, says to Peter feed my sheep. And if you remember in the gospel story there is something more that follows. Jesus says to Peter when you were young man you did what you choose, as you grow older others will bind you and lead you where you do not want to go. And then he says to Peter, follow me.
To follow Jesus is to be bound, to be bound by his love – and to follow Jesus as a faithful people is to be bound by his love in a very special way. Sometimes we think of those who have authority in the church as those who have the freedom to do what they want. I think that every pastor and bishop will know not like that it is not quite like that. The faithful shepherd is the one who is bound by love. He does not do what he wants, he does what the people of God need because Jesus Christ himself, the good shepherd – he tells us that he does not do his will, he does will of his Father. And will of father is that all his people should be fed and saved and led to heaven. So that those who are called to follow Jesus as shepherd and pastors, they too must seek to do will of the Father and to serve the needs of the people.
Sometimes people think, or have thought in the past of the Church as a pyramid: the top with all the power that comes down to the people at the bottom. But the truth is that the church as a famous European bishop said, is an inverted pyramid. Christ is the single foundation, the church's one foundation as we sang a while ago. Christ bears the whole weight of the world. But those called to follow him and to lead others, they are called to share in carrying this weight. To be an apostle, a pastor, a teacher, is to carry in Christ the need and the suffering of Christ's world, to carry the suffering of the world which Christ so loves. The apostle, the pastor, the teacher is calling us to help to create a church which itself will help to carries these burdens; to create a church which helps to carry the pain of people and never runs away.
Here in Burundi as you minister with hope and joy in a situation of such need, the Church and all its leaders must pray for strength; the strength to support and sustain and inspire a whole society as it grows in justice and maturity. This is a great moment for Burundi; the chances of peace and prosperity are greater than they have been. The people of this country have expressed their longing for peace and for reconciliation and as the country grows and moves forward, it will need the church as never before. It will need a church that is willing to carry the burden and share the load and the suffering.
And the church will need pastors and leaders and even an archbishop who will bear that burden. No one is able to bear that load by themselves. The church can only bear that load if day after day it hears the good news from its pastors. And the pastor, the bishops, the archbishop, you can only do that if you know, every hour of every day, that you are supported by Christ alone. When the burden is heavy, you must know that Christ bears it for you. When the darkness of suffering is around you, you must know that Christ is there with you. When times seem hopeless, testing and difficult, know that Christ leads you forwards. Remember he is the one foundation. There is no human trouble, no human pain that he does not carry in you and for you.
And so the pastor, the teacher, the bishop in the church must turn his eyes into depths where Christ holds up the whole world. And in your prayer, Bernard, and in your study, look into the depths, look into that deep place in your heart where Christ lives, and he will build you up on that foundation. And as he builds you up he will build up his Church.
We must all learn to look into those deep places where in the depth of our hearts, Christ has given his spirit. It is what St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, when we do not know how to pray the spirit prays in us. And from the depth of our hearts the spirit draws up the prayer, 'Abba Father'.
So it is hard often to be a disciple, it is hard to follow Christ and sometimes it feels as if our freedom is hemmed in. but it is not so because Christ has given us freedom of the spirit in our hearts. And what is that freedom? It is the freedom to love, the freedom to forgive. It is the freedom to serve and to bear each others' burdens. Because we know that all burdens are borne by Christ.
So dear brothers and sisters, give thanks to God that he has laid one foundation in Jesus Christ, give thanks that he has laid the foundation of the apostles and the prophets in holy scripture. Give thanks that he has called men and women to share the apostolic ministry. Give thanks for those who in Christ's name bear the burden. And give thanks also that Jesus Christ has called each one of you to bear the burden of the world, to serve and to love in hope. In your prayer and your love, in your witness and your service you bear up the needs of the world, you carry them to God and open them out to his grace.
So may you all become that pyramid turned upside down. Each one of you knowing Christ in the depth, Christ at the foundation. Each one of you knowing that from those depths rises up the prayer of the spirit. And in that strength offer to the world your love, offer to this nation your love. Tell everyone of your neighbours that God carries their burdens and that God longs for them to be free in love, in forgiveness and in service.
And pray for your Archbishop and other leaders, pray that they may have the strength in Jesus Christ to carry the load that they have. May God bless you all, and God build you up into a living temple. And may God grant that everyone who sees you will see Christ in the depths of your heart and they may know there is hope for the world.