SERMON BY THE VICAR: LENT 5 THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SACRIFICE
The storm clouds are gathering. The mood is darkening. The smell of violence increases. Knives are sharpened on the streets and ready to plunge into colleagues’ backs. Betrayal is the mood of the moment. Justice is miscarried. The leadership washes its hands. The people starve for lack of vision. Sounds familiar? This is the Christian story as we enter Passiontide. We call this season Passiontide because it comes from the Latin Passio - I suffer. So, this is the season in which we turn towards the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus through the events of Holy Week. This is also the day on which we hold our Annual Meeting, when we review what we have done over the past 12 months and look forward to the future under God. To illustrate what I want to say, I want to use three images which I have used before, but I return to them again and again, as they describe for me the life of every church in every place in every time. The images come from the East of Libya to an area called Cyrenaica. It reminds me of bits of the Yorkshire Dales. Every time I have been there it has been raining heavily. The Greeks who colonised this place said there was a hole in the sky. In this green upland area, you will find an important sixth century Byzantine Church with a stunning mosaic floor. In the centre of the mosaic are three veiled Byzantine court ladies – by the way Christianity had veiled women before Islam, and still has in lots of places. These elegant women represent the three cardinal qualities for Byzantine Christians in how they understood churches to live and grow. These three cardinal qualities are described in Greek as K’tsis, Kosmesis, and Ananeosis. These snappy little titles are what I want to speak about today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, also called Passion Sunday and when also hold our Annual Meeting.
So, first K’tsis. This means Foundation, and it speaks of the early stages of energy and growth, which represent the founding of any church. Libya, like much of North Africa is very proud of its apostolic traditions of Christianity, with the belief that St Mark was there before he ended his days in Alexandria, as well as the important figure that we think of at this Passion tide – Simon of Cyrene, which is of course in Libya. All churches need their foundation narratives. What makes this church, or any other church, an authentic expression of Christianity? For the majority of Christians in the world, namely Roman Catholic and Orthodox, it would be the fact that they are apostolic- that’s to say, the belief that the life of this Church can be traced right back to the Apostles themselves. For the English Church, or the Ecclesia Anglicana, it too found its identity through the sixth century Augustine of Canterbury to the Apostle Peter, Bishop of Rome. There was of course some sort of Celtic manifestation of the faith in these islands before Augustine, but we don’t know much about it, as they were the losing side, and much of what we think we know is in fact twentieth century romantic myth. This Church of St John, when it was built in 1845, harked back architecturally to that medieval period of the ecclesia anglicana. This early example of a Gothic revival cruciform church was making an architectural statement of a belief - that the Church of England stood in direct continuity with the pre-reformation ecclesia anglicana as the ancient church of the land. This foundation, this k’tsis, was ahead of its time in many ways – ahead of its time in demography (hardly anybody lived around here), in ecclesiology (it was ahead of the later Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic development) and in providing for the mission of the Church where the only people who lived nearby lived in poverty down the hill at the piggeries. In this sense, our founding forebears had an energy, vigour, and belief that traditionally is associated with the foundations of a church. This is Ktisis. If you want a visual representation in this church, look at the youthful figure of St John in his boat on the left of the reredos behind the altar.
Ktsis Foundation leads to Kosmesis – beautification or adornment. Kosmesis is my favourite of the women, as she is so heavily done up and adorned. This is the next stage in Church life and follows on from the youthful energy of ktsis. This is the natural human instinct for beauty, especially in places associated with the sacred. I know of no religious tradition anywhere which would not instinctively always want the best of human endeavour – art, architecture, and music, for their places of worship. Even traditions that say they are anti-beauty and anti-adornment seek their own aesthetic, which they would call Godly – Shakers, Quakers, and Amish come to mind. The whole re-arrangement of the interior, the change in the liturgy, all of this was designed through beautification to create a sense of the numinous, the Godly. Much of the nineteenth century years was the move from ktsis, youthful foundation to kosmesis, beautification, through the development of a more ritualistic form of worship. For us too – beautiful worship should produce beautiful people. Does it do that? But it doesn’t stop there, because all churches need the third phase ananeosis.
Ananeosis – Renewal. If you drew these three aspects – Foundation, Beautification, Renewal, diagrammatically – you would find in all healthy churches that they form a constant circle. Foundation leads to beautification, leads to renewal which leads to return to foundation and on and on. I believe we have certainly seen this form of ananeosis or renewal in the past year, and generally renewal and growth comes with growing pains. One of these has been our finances, where we ran a deficit. But we have used this growing pain as an opportunity to examine what we are doing and plan vigorously for the future. Through increasing our income and controlling our costs we are already set in a much better position. In the last year, we have also been able to look at pastoral care of our families, pastoral care for children, pastoral care for older people, and pastoral care for each and every one of us. A wise external trainer helped us to put this pastoral care into practice in a structured and systematic way. As we see foundation, beautification, and renewal in church buildings, so too we see it in how we care for each other. We cannot be beautified and renewed as individuals if we spend our energy in negative and destructive ways – carping, sneering, criticising, insinuating. Pastoral Care leads us to the relation that we are in this boat together. A Japanese Buddhist monk friend of mine told me recently that classical Japanese spirituality expects the tsunami of life to occur at any time, and so there is a consequent need to cling together. It is not for them to rage and blame because the wrong type of leaves has made the trains late. So too we belong together and look after each other, as we do not know when the wave of the tsunami will strike us individually or collectively. This too leads to a renewal, especially today when we hold our Annual Meeting on Passion Sunday and prepare ourselves for the Tsunami of Holy Week and Easter.
I hope these three images from Libya will help us as we give thanks under God for another year of your life together and make our plans for the next. The three stages of Ktsis (foundation) Kosmesis (beautification) and Ananeosis (Renewal) underlie our present plans for the future of this church and can well apply to every one of us in our own journey of faith. As we renew our building, our faith, and our structures, we find that our pastoral care for each other is rooted in one significant and overriding fact- our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As baptism is so central to what we do, it was the relocation of the font which has drawn so much praise from Diocesan and national advisory bodies. Baptism is the root and origin of all that we do. Baptism gives us the new ekklesia, the household of faith, into which we are all baptised and commissioned to ministry. This new life, this new connectedness of the People of God has never been more important than it is now. The times are critical and urgent. As we see the collapse of political authority, factional infighting, and the fragmentation of society accompanied by the rise of extremisms of all kind, accompanied by violent language and violent behaviour, we need to step up to the plate like never before. As we celebrate Passion Sunday and keep our Annual Meeting, we turn to the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in the sure and certain knowledge that all growth in the church, all renewal, comes from Christ the head of this and every household of the baptised. As we thank God for the past and say yes to the future, I end with words of the fifteenth century mystic Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrate later this month. This is true for us as individuals and for us as a church. She said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."