TRINITY 2, 2016
Galatians 1:11-end, Luke 7:11-17
The great eighteenth century Russian Orthodox Saint Seraphim of Sarov wrote this, “When I am dead, come to me at my grave, and the more often the better. Whatever is in your soul, whatever may have happened to you, come to me as when I was alive and kneeling on the ground, cast all your bitterness upon my grave. Tell me everything and I shall listen to you, and all the bitterness will fly away from you. And as you spoke to me when I was alive, do so now. For I am living and I shall be forever.” Interestingly, this connects us to the events of this coming week, where for a short time, all of us became a community of celebration through the corporate personality of the anointed Monarch. We are being invited, through the symbol of her anointing, to reflect on our own calling, both as individuals and as a community. So the two things two things I want to speak briefly about, community of life, and corporate personality.
Community of Life. Both readings set for today speak about the new life which the Christian faith offers. The first way we do this together is by worship. Joining a community of celebration in sacramental worship lifts me above and beyond myself, and in so doing, gives life to the individual and community. We do not need to understand the words of the worship – and, in truth, we seldom do. A sacramental community of celebration, such as any Eucharistic one, renews the individual and society. The Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios wrote this in a new book, Mission in Christ’s Way,” Worship liberates the believer from narrow patterns of thought, from passions and most of all, from his suffocating egoism.” Worship unites the believer with Christ, and with the entire church of the faithful, with those who have lived and died, and with those who will live in the future.” In other words, worship takes us beyond ourselves, makes us truly alive and truly human, and through us gives life to the societies in which we are set. This is true for Anglicans & Orthodox, for British and Russian, in the common task we face of giving life to our deadening materialistic societies. This is a corporate civility, so I want to talk about corporate personality.
Corporate Personality. This week’s commemoration of the 90th birthday of the Queen has its heart the anointing of one person – the Monarch. This is the meaning of anointing. Through the sacred and mystical ceremony of anointing, be that the anointing of infants and adults at their baptism, the anointing of the adult who has turned to the Christian faith at confirmation, the anointing of priests and bishops when they are ordained, the final human touch of anointing when we die, or the anointing of Monarchs at their Coronation, we are brought into mystical communion with the divine and with each other. Through this anointing, The Monarch becomes her people, and the people are their Monarch. Orthodoxy retains this sense in the crowning of the couple in their wedding ceremony as Kings and Queens of creation. Of course, all power can be abused. But the abuse of a thing isn’t really an argument for its discontinuation, and at the same time as celebrating the right use of power under God, we pray earnestly for all those who suffer from its abuse, as we see so plainly in Syria right now. A protection from this kind of abuse is the understanding of corporate personality in which the ruler finds true contentment as the servant of God, and fulfilment through that of her subjects.
Community of Life and Corporate Personality are both affirmed in the Gospel set for today, when Jesus brings to life the widow’s Son, for in raising him to life he restores community. For us, the identity of the community of life is strengthened and enhanced visibly by Baptism, Word, and Sacrament, and the daily beating heart of the community connecting with the Divine in daily prayer. This is truly life giving. These two insights, or something similar, could have been offered in the current dispiriting debate about our membership of the EU. Instead we have seen the corporate failure of all politicians of all parties, not one of whom has attempted to lift our sights to the greater whole. This is leadership cowardice of the highest order. I would love to have heard, from at least one politician, of what Britain can offer to Europe, and where we locate Europe’s soul. The timing of the bringing together of the relics of St Thomas Becket from different parts of Europe (mainly Hungary) in the week past is no accidental timing on the part of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Actions, we say, speak louder than words. Nor is the timing of our weekend of celebration and renewal next week accidental. For the past five years, we have done the hard work of renewing this building in service to God and community, and now we celebrate the achievements of that hard work, we turn simultaneously to the future as we ask ourselves, under God, where our priorities should lie for the next five years. Connecting people through families and children will surely be high on the agenda, with the development of a strategy and a budget for this most important of works.
So as we celebrate our membership of the community of life through our anointing, we are brought into that liberty under authority about of which Archbishop Justin frequently speaks. I started with Russian Orthodoxy so I end with it. Six years after the consecration of this Church, in 1851, St Philaret of Moscow, preaching on the occasion of the birthday of Tsar Nicholas I said of the believer (you and me), “The worshipping believer is set free. This is the freedom of which neither heaven nor earth can restrict.” Thanks be to God for our membership of the community of life and our connectedness to the community in this country, in Europe, and the world.