Anglican Communion gathering at Lambeth Palace
Thursday 12th July 2012At a gathering for Anglican Communion guests at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed gratitude for the rich contribution to church life in England made by those from other parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
This followed his recent intervention at General Synod in the debate on World-shaped Mission in which he highlighted the value of collaborating with and learning from the global church “on our own doorstep”.
The guests were invited to view the Lambeth Palace Library exhibition "Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer", before participating in a Eucharist in the Chapel at Lambeth Palace with Archbishop Rowan.
During the Eucharist, the Archbishop preached on the subject of peace, saying:
"We speak peace, even if it isn’t always heard or always understood, because we are to speak peace whether it is received or not – because it’s what we have been given, and we must give it."
He went on to say:
"Whenever I come back from a visit within the Communion, the stories with which I come back, the stories I long to share with people, are stories about the peace that God has made. About how the Church - our Church, our Anglican family – has, in different parts of the world, shown so dramatically, in such a costly way, that willingness to be there for one another and to be there for people that others want to forget."
A full transcript of the Archbishop's sermon follows, or listen to an audio recording [15Mb, 16 mins].
Archbishop’s sermon at Anglican Communion gathering
Lambeth Palace, 12 July 2012
Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9
“You received without payment,” says Jesus; “give without payment.” Or, in the more elegant words of the older translation, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
What have we received? The clue, perhaps, is a few lines further on in what Jesus says. “If you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” (Matthew 10:12-13) We have received peace. The gift freely given is the gift of peace - peace with God; peace with one another. Peace, as Paul says in Ephesians, to those who are far off and those who are near at hand. And when we enter any house, greeting it, as the apostles would have done, with the simple word “Shalom”, it is God’s peace, which we have been given, that we seek to share.
So what is it that binds us as an Anglican family? It is the gift of peace. Not the peace that we have achieved by negotiating with one another until we come to a standstill, but the peace that is given by God. The reconciliation given by our maker and redeemer in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the peace that this creates between us, which is far more than just a peace of convergence or agreement, but the peace that belongs to our fellowship as baptised Christians; our fellowship as sons and daughters of the living God.
“Christ is our peace”, we say when we celebrate together. Christ is our peace, because Christ is our gift. Christ is what is freely given to us; Christ is what we share. So when we think about what we say to one another as Anglicans worldwide, we must constantly be asking: how do we speak peace, speak Christ, to one another? How do we share what we have been given, so that together we share it with God’s world?
Last weekend, in the General Synod of the Church of England, we had a discussion about World-shaped Mission. We discussed the way in which the global Anglican family was not distant, but here in our midst; here in the United Kingdom we are a global family, a family of difference and diversity. And today, as we gather here in this chapel, that is part of what we celebrate: a communion that is not just a set of theoretical relationships with people whose photographs we occasionally see, but actual neighbours – flesh and blood neighbours, here next to us; here, mingling as brothers and sisters today.
And what that means is that the peace that God has given us as part of a worldwide church is a peace, an active, transforming, hopeful peace, that we are sharing among ourselves here in the churches of the United Kingdom. So, as Anglicans together in our world, this must always be the question we ask one another and ask ourselves: how are we learning to speak peace to those far off and those near at hand? Not any peace, not calm and convergence, not even alliances or covenants – but Christ, the absolute given-ness of Jesus Christ, in whom we stand together.
So that’s a first subject for us to meditate on and to pray about today, because that peace is what is at the heart of what we’re doing, here and now, in celebrating the Holy Communion. At Holy Communion, above all, perhaps, we should be hearing those words: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Because the Holy Communion is, above all, the sign of the absolute freedom of God’s gift in Jesus Christ; the sign of an absolute peace given between us, which cannot be broken except by the most open, overt rejection of Christ Himself. “As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” We speak peace, even if it isn’t always heard or always understood, because we are to speak peace whether it is received or not – because it’s what we have been given, and we must give it.
The second thought for this afternoon comes from the Old Testament lesson, and perhaps explains a little bit more about what we mean by peace itself. The Old Testament lesson is one of the most remarkable passages in the whole of the Bible; a passage where God Himself complains that he hasn’t got the emotional toughness to sendIsraelaway. God says “I can’t give you up.” God says to His people: I’m addicted to you. I’m not free to say no to you. You matter so profoundly to me that I cannot imagine being God without you.
And that ought to shock us to our foundations. To hear a God – an all‑powerful, majestic, infinite, glorious God – addressing us in those terms; saying “I can’t imagine being God without you,” saying, in Hosea’s wonderful language: sometimes I really wish I could give you up, but I can’t. Sometimes, when I think of who you are and what you’ve done and how often you’ve turned your back on me, my goodness, I wish I could give you up. But I can’t – because I’m God; I’m not you, I don’t do vengeance, I don’t do resentment. I’m God. I can’t help being God, and so I can’t help being utterly in love with you, my people. And I cannot imagine being God without you.
Deeply shocking - there it is in Holy Scripture: a God who can’t give us up. And when we talk about peace with God, we’re talking about how God spends Himself, and pours Himself out, in the most extreme way possible – in the suffering and death of our Lord; in the broken bread, the spilled wine of Holy Communion; pours himself out to make peace. The God who will hold back nothing to make peace, because he cannot imagine Himself as God without us. And so when we think of the peace that God has made with us in Jesus Christ, we should be sobered and shocked at its depth, at its force. That is what peace with God means; and the peace we are given with each other as Christians grows out of that.
And in that, there is the alarming hint that if God can’t give us up, we can’t give each other up - as Anglicans and Anglicans together, but as Christians and Christians together too. How very nice it would be if we could simply say: we’re giving up now on fellowship; that’s enough peace, that’s enough attempts to be together. And in those moments - which are frequent enough, God knows - we ought to hear God saying: But I’m God. I’m not you. You can give up on each other, but I can’t. And maybe with that before us, we can think of what it is that God goes on asking of us, in terms of making and keeping peace.
I’m not just talking about how we live through the deeply painful conflicts in our Communion, though that’s important enough. I’m talking about those attitudes to one another that shape our lives and our policies. That willingness to be spent for one another; that willingness to let others flourish and rejoice because of what we do; that willingness to be there for one another, whatever happens. And I believe that in our global Anglican family, in spite of all our tensions and divisions, we have learned a great deal more in recent decades about being there for one another, locally and internationally.
And whenever I come back from a visit within the Communion, the stories with which I come back, the stories I long to share with people, are stories about the peace that God has made. About how the Church - our Church, our Anglican family – has, in different parts of the world, shown so dramatically, in such a costly way, that willingness to be there for one another and to be there for people that others want to forget.
Since my visit this time last year, I’ve talked a great deal about my experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, watching what the church does there with women who have been abused and traumatised; with young people who’ve been kidnapped and brutalised in the militias. Because of the way in which people there spoke about how the Church had not given them up; how the church had been faithful; the Church had made peace. Not by brokering a treaty, not by negotiating a ceasefire; but by being there, visibly, profoundly loving those who had been forgotten and those who had been injured. That’s peace, the peace we have freely received, the peace we must freely give.
And I thank God that in travelling in the Communion, those are the stories that God gives me, as a pastor and a preacher, to share so that I can say, when I return from visits around the Communion, “I have freely received; I must freely give, and share the witness that I have seen around the world in our Communion.”
So today, as we celebrate our Anglican fellowship, those are the two thoughts that I suggest we hold in our minds and our hearts. What we’ve received is peace: Christ who is our peace, a peace deeper than any we can craft for ourselves. And why are we at peace with God and one another? Because God cannot imagine being God without us, and so all His energy, His love, His power and His glory are bent towards the task of reconciliation. And whenever something of God’s power and majesty and glory floods our own minds and hearts, what do we do with it? We use it for that peace, for that reconciliation – for proclaiming peace with God, for labouring for peace with one another. For shaping, and, we hope and pray, embedding and consolidating reconciliation in our divided world.
Never mind if the word is not heard; never mind if the enterprise is not successful. We do it because, if we’ve inherited from God our Father any slightest tinge, any slightest element, of His own power and glory as His children, then we shan’t be able to help it. We make peace; we proclaim and work for reconciliation, not because we think it’s quite a good idea, but because our Heavenly Father has implanted it in the DNA of our new creation; our rebirth as His children. We can’t help ourselves; we cannot give each other up as Christians, as human beings.
“How can I give you up, Ephraim; how can I hand you over, Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm. I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst.” (Hosea 11:8,9) And today, in our Holy Communion, the Holy One is in our midst and we break the bread of peace and we drink the wine of reconciliation. We share Christ with one another; we affirm whose children we are, and we commit ourselves to God’s helplessness – to God’s helpless, hopeless addiction to the human beings He has made, and loves without limit.
© Rowan Williams 2012