Chrism Mass sermon
Bishop Steven gave the following address at Christ Church Cathedral on Maundy Thursday:
The Lord speaks to Samuel in our first reading: “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”.
The bestselling novel in Britain at present is by the Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for The Remains of the Day. Klara and Sun is a beautifully written exploration of what it means to be human, through the genre of science fiction.
The novel turns around a fundamental question in the light of new technology. Klara, the lead character, is an AF – an Artificial Friend. One of the lead characters asks her, two thirds of the way through the book:
“Let me ask you this. Do you believe in the human heart?”
Do you believe in the human heart: something that makes us special and individual; the deepest part of us; vast and complex; rooms within rooms within rooms – the character goes on.
This is a year in which, I hope, despite everything, we would answer yes to that question. The immense tragedy and challenge of the pandemic has exposed, for the most part, the best of the human heart: love and commitment and sacrifice and dedication; grief and sorrow; ingenuity and questioning. We will know again the limits of our own hearts as we have been stretched and tested and reflected on our priorities.
The readings at this service can be read through the lens of what they tell us about the human heart. The prophet Samuel’s heart is broken by a betrayal of trust: “How long will you grieve over Saul”, the Lord asks him. He goes in search of someone whose heart is open and right before God, the young David. Though as the story unfolds, we know that even David’s heart will harden, twist and fail.
Paul writes beautifully of about the heart of the Christian disciple: the hearts of those who would dedicate their lives to God. He writes of the demands and the trials we must face: therefore since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. He writes of the continual need for transparency, for healing, for renewal, of the dangers of being blinded by the world. He writes of God’s light shining in our hearts in the face of Jesus Christ.
And Luke, in our gospel reading, dissects the heart of every minister and tells us in the story of the Last Supper, of the ever-present danger of ambition: ‘a dispute arose among them about who was the greatest.’ We are reminded of our own complexity, our hardness of heart.
Contemplative, compassionate and courageous
We are reminded too of the Spirit’s constant call to purify and heal our hearts: to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous for the sake of God’s world.
In this Eucharist, as in every encounter with the living God, we are called to serious heart work: to examine our hearts, to open our hearts, to offer our hearts again, to communion in our hearts, to allow God to transform our hearts, and most of all, most of all, to lift up our hearts.
That lifting up today may be painful and difficult. After all we have given out over the past year, it is not easy to come again to God and seek renewal and grace and healing and to rededicate our whole lives and all our hearts to God once more. We cannot do this by ourselves but only in the grace God gives to us and through the encouragement and counsel we give to one another.
But this is the call God gives to each of us – to lift up our hearts, to open our closed hearts, to soften our stony hearts, to water our dry hearts, to hold our cloddy, earthy hearts to the warmth of God’s Son, to receive love so that we might love again.
I thank God for each of you today.
I thank God for all of the ministry which has been offered, much of it unseen. Hear the affirmation for all that has been given.
But every single one of us knows we have an immense challenge still ahead of us: to regather the Church lovingly and steadily through pastoral care and the ministries of word and sacrament. To offer healing to the world, symbolised by these oils, which we bless and send out today. To raise up, like Samuel, the next generation of God’s people. To invite those who are hungry and thirsty to come and eat. To call the whole of this hurting world, every person in creation, to lift up their hearts to God’s love and grace and healing.
How long will you grieve over Saul?
Therefore since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
We say to one another and to the world: Lift up your hearts.