General Synod: Archbishop's sermon at Eucharist
Wednesday 8th February 2012A sermon preached by Archbishop Rowan Williams at a Eucharist celebrated in the Assembly Hall of Church House, Westminster, during the General Synod.
Readings: John 16:14; Romans 8:26
He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. He will declare to you things that are to come.
As the very first credit cards were being marketed in the UK - first swallows of rather a sharp winter, as things turned out - one of the advertising straplines was ‘takes the waiting out of wanting’. The thought that what we want and long for might be here now, that we might get the future in advance is a deeply attractive idea, and you could hear in this morning’s Gospel, a suggestion that that was what the Holy Spirit was doing. He was showing the things that had come. He will bring the future here and now. Spirit brings future into our midst.
But before we get too enthusiastic about that, we ought to remember that of course this is God’s future we’re talking about. And God’s future is by no means the same as the future we try to create for ourselves, and imagine for ourselves. That’s the challenge of discernment in the Holy Spirit. We’re asking not for a foretaste of the future we would like, we are planning, we are working for; we ask for a foretaste of God’s future. And once we put it like that, we realise of course that sinful and stupid as we are, we haven’t got a clue about God’s future. And so we come in prayer to the Holy Spirit, very much with empty hands and longing hearts and relatively blank minds. We come in exactly that state of wittering, inarticulate confusion that St Paul so wonderfully describes as the state of Christian prayer. We do not know how to pray as we ought to. Our prayer is a bundle of distractions and longings, hopes and anxieties, churning around inside, and somehow, upheld, shot through, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Somehow the Holy Spirit is constantly winnowing out the nonsense from our longing and hopes, and pushing us towards that future, God’s future, of which we can have so little a picture.
And yet, having said we haven’t got a clue what God’s future looks like, as a matter of fact that’s not the case. What does God’s future look like? Well, one thing we can say is that it looks like Jesus. And that’s why what we wait for, what we long for - God’s future – is our redemption. We ourselves have had the first fruits of the spirit grow inwardly while we wait for adoption. The redemption of our bodies for in hope we were saved.
A wonderful truth about God’s future is that whatever it is, it is all of us, spirit and body, caught up to be Christ-like. And when we feed our bodies here with the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the redemption of our bodies is underway as the Spirit yet again comes to life in our faith as we receive. Here is God’s future. Here the Holy Spirit called upon our assembly - these gifts of bread and wine - here God’s future is real. And we, just for a moment, are simply there in God’s future with one another, in Jesus Christ, praising the Father.
In a sense we ought to be able to say more than nothing about Holy Communion. It is so extraordinary, so vast, so mysterious. And how very notable a witness it is to the innate tone-deafness of the Christian churches that we go on talking and talking and arguing and arguing about it as if it were not God’s future, as if it were not the place where the Spirit comes alive in us, as if it were easy to talk about what happens here at this table in this assembly of believers. God forgive us, and God shut us up, may the Holy Spirit alone speak as we gather to share bread and wine. As we sense, literally, in our bodies, the redemption that is God’s future, our adoption as sons and daughters.
Because at the end of the day of course, you might say that God’s future… is God. God’s future is God. God doesn’t have aims and plans for God, God is God. God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and our future us to be in that relationship – that’s God’s future from our point of view. We are swept up, winged of the Spirit, to pray with words of the Son and be received in the embrace of the Father. That’s our future; that’s what it looks like. Yes there are clues. Putting them all together and somehow making sense of them in the middle of all of our argument and uncertainty and our ‘Synodical discernment’ - which is not without argument and uncertainty - putting it all together is hard work, and no different a kind of hard work from the hard work that is common or garden discipleship, day after day. But as we embark on another day of Synodical business, and a particularly pressured day in some ways, let us make the most of this moment of God’s future. Let that somehow hold and include today. What we are doing is not simply advancing this or that plan or agenda, we are striving to open ourselves to God’s future, not just mine or yours – God’s. Striving to open ourselves to that energy, that converting power which will bring us to where God is by God’s own act, through God’s own Son. Our celebration at the beginning of this day of the Holy Eucharist, quite simply puts us there. Here we stand in Christ before the Father. Here we are what we ought to be. Here we are those with whom the future is shared.
He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. That very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
So enough nattering of our history; let us step into it and open ourselves to its life and its glory. Amen
© Rowan Williams 2012