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Holy Eucharist at Kitwe, Zambia

Archbishop Albert Chama and Archbishop Rowan processing to the Eucharist in Kitwe

Wednesday 12th October 2011

Archbishop Rowan Williams preached the following sermon at a Eucharist held in the mining town of Kitwe, Zambia.

Read a transcript of the Archbishop's sermon below, or listen to the audio file which includes a translation into Bemba throughout. 

Sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Holy Eucharist, Arthur Davis Stadium, Kitwe, Zambia

Theme: Mission of the Church


  • Lamentations 1: 1-6
  • 2 Timothy 1: 1-14
  • Luke 24: 44-49

Today we are celebrating the mission of the Church. The strange thing is that if you read the New Testament you will not find the word 'mission'. What you will find are many references to God sending his Son, and Jesus sending us. In the Gospel that we heard a few moments ago Jesus tells his friends to go and bear witness to what has happened. In another of the stories of what Jesus said after his resurrection, this time in St John's Gospel, Jesus says 'As the Father sent me, I am sending you'.

I want to think with you about these things – about bearing witness, and about the Father sending Jesus, and Jesus sending us in the same way. Why does the Father send Jesus, and how does he send him? The Father does not send Jesus into the world simply to speak words, he sends him to share the life of his people. He sends him to give his life for his people, and he sends him to give new life to the whole world. This is why the Father sends Jesus; this is how the Father sends Jesus.

And now Jesus says to us 'Just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you'. We are sent into the world not just to speak words; we are sent to share the life of those around us. That means we are sent to share the sufferings, the struggles, the hopes and the joys of our neighbours. We are sent to be alongside them, listening to their needs, attending to them, giving them our love and our compassion.

And secondly it means that we are also sent to give our lives, as Jesus was. The mission of the Church is a mission that takes risks for the sake of other people. Sometimes it is not comfortable to be involved in the mission of the Church. Sometimes we would rather stay at home, and sometimes we would prefer to share the lives of people who are exactly like us and think in the same way. But Jesus sends us out as God sent him out – to make friends out of strangers. That is sometimes difficult, and sometimes means taking risks. It means putting on one side some of the things which make us feel safe and comfortable. We do it so that our neighbours may find life and joy and hope, because that is the third thing for which we are sent.

Do you remember the words in the second reading this morning which Paul wrote to Timothy? Paul said that Jesus is sent into the world to 'destroy the power of death, and to bring everlasting life to light'. And so we are sent in order to challenge the power of death, and to bring life.

The power of death works in many ways. It can work through greed and selfishness. It can work through lust and self-indulgence. It can work through hatred and prejudice. But we are called to expose death – to challenge it and to fight it, to fight greed and selfishness and indulgence in our society, to promise not only the forgiveness of God but the friendship of human beings to those who have lost their way.

To take one of the most powerful examples in this church and many churches in Africa, I think of the work that the churches do with those with HIV and AIDS. They say to them 'we are not going to shut you out, we are not going to forget you, we are going to be your friends'. This is to fight against the power of death, and to bring life to light. This is what mission means: being sent by Jesus as the Father sent Jesus himself – sent to share our lives, to risk our lives, and to give the life of Jesus himself to others. This is the witness that we have to bear. It is not enough to say 'these things happened in the life of Jesus many hundreds of years ago'. We have to say, and we have to show, that Jesus is alive today in our life.

St Paul, in another place, says to new Christians who have just been converted: 'He has made you alive'. When we as Christians are alive in love and in service to one another, then we show the truth of Jesus' resurrection. Then we are true witnesses to the power from on high that Jesus speaks of, the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is one other thing about the sending of Jesus that I want to mention. God the Father sends his Son from heaven. But it is not as though the Son goes far away from the Father, as we might if we travel away from our families. Because Jesus says again and again 'The Father is with me' – where Jesus is found, there the Father is present also. And where Jesus is at work, the Holy Spirit is at work at the same time.

If we are sent in the way that Jesus is sent by the Father, what does that mean for us? Does it mean that Jesus simply says 'You go over there'? No. Jesus walks with us. He sends us and he comes with us at the same time, so that where we are, there he is also. Those are the words that he himself speaks in the 12th chapter of St John's Gospel, and the words he speaks again in chapters 14 and 15 of St John's Gospel to his disciples. He says 'Where I am, there you will be, and where you are, I will be.'

So wherever we go, sent by Jesus, Jesus is with us. If Jesus is with us, then his Father and his Spirit are with us too. That means that as we go about our mission, no one of us is ever alone. Sometimes when we are trying to do the work of God's Kingdom, we may feel alone, we may feel we are in difficulty - but as we do that work, Jesus is with us, the Father is with us, the Holy Spirit is with us. Wherever we are, we are in relationship with Jesus and with the whole of the life of God. So when we are sent into the world, we are sent in that relationship, and we are sent to call other people into that relationship, that love. We do not just hand to another person a message and say 'do you agree with that?' We say to somebody else 'come into our friendship, into our fellowship' because our fellowship is of the Father and of Jesus Christ, as St John said in his letter.

All of this is what our mission means as a Church. We bring life to those who are in the power of death. We bring relationship and family to those who feel isolated and forgotten. We bring hope to those who think there is no hope. We say to them that the world can be changed by God. And those who are forgotten, those who are guilty, those who are suffering - all of them can be accepted and welcomed by us in the name of the God who has welcomed us into his heart.

So our mission is always more than words - our mission is the sharing of life. Here at this Eucharist, at this Holy Communion, this is what we are saying. We have not just come here to listen to words, we have come to be fed with the life of Jesus as we share the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.

When the Church goes about its mission, it does not expect people just to listen to words. The Church and its mission say 'We have food for you if you are hungry'. Often that is literal food for the hungry, real food for those who are truly hungry. But it can also be food for the spirit, giving to those who are humiliated, forgotten and suffering a promise of God's friendship. This means that the Church must always be listening very hard to hear the voices of those who don't always have a chance to speak.

One of the great glories of the Church in Africa is that it has learned how to find a way to give women a voice in Church and society. But it also seeks to find a way of giving those who are poor, those who are oppressed, those who are refugees, the same hope. All of this is part of the mission of the Church. Mission is not just saying to somebody else: 'agree with me'. It is to say: 'I will show you where there is life and hope'.

So, dear friends, I wish you God's blessing in that mission. I know that the Church in this country and the Church in this province is a Church that seeks to share life. A Church that is ready to be alongside people, to share life. A Church where people are willing to risk life for the sake of others. I was privileged to see the courage of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe in such very difficult circumstances, risking their lives to carry on their service; but this is also a Church that shows and gives the life of Jesus Christ.

And as St Paul writes to Timothy: 'I pray for you, that you will have the confidence to go on in that kind of mission'. If we are sent by Jesus Christ in this way, that is how the Church will grow. It will grow because people will see we have been made alive by Jesus Christ. Today we rejoice in that life and we give thanks for it, and in gratitude and in humility we come once again to the table of Jesus Christ to take that life into our hands, into our bodies, into our hearts.

© Rowan Williams 2011 

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