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Archbishop's closing sermon at General Synod

Tuesday 13th July 2010

The Archbishop preached in York at the final Eucharist of the 2005—2010 General Synod.

Read a transcript of the Archbishop's sermon below, or click download on the right to listen [11Mb]

Lectionary: 2 Corinthians 4.1—12; St John 12.20—36

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Greeks come wanting to see Jesus (John 12.20f). Were they, I wonder, like the tourists who turn up in Dharamsala saying, I want to see the Dalai Lama? 'There's a famous charismatic religious around. I'd like to catch a glimpse of him. I might even be interested in listening to what he says, a bit ... and then back to the hotel.'

Jesus' response to this request seems to be, 'There is only one way in which you can really see: and that is, when you see the Christ lifted up in the pain and the defeat of the cross, and find the glory of the Father radiating there.' You can't just be a tourist. You can't simply wander around hoping to capture a glimpse of an interesting person if you're really concerned to see Jesus. You have to go where the cross is because, of course, where Jesus is there will his friends be also. So that the tough news for us, spelled out so eloquently by St Paul, is that if Jesus is going to be seen in us, he is seen when the cross is seen in us. He is seen when it's clear that what we have to say is not how well we're doing, but how great is the truth and the reality placed in our hands. 'You have this treasure in earthen vessels.' (2 Cor 4.7) 'You have the light: trust the light and walk in it.' (John 12.35—6)

So we Christians are always uncomfortably poised around that mystery. 'Sir, we would see Jesus' – words which some of you would remember engraved on some kinds of old fashioned pulpit so that the preacher is reminded of his or her business (very good custom, I would say). And we hope and trust that when people say they want to see Jesus, we are able in some way, in our words and deeds, to answer them because we know we have a treasure, and we know we have a light.

And then, we face the fact that the treasure and the light is precisely not us. And all we can do, it seems, sometimes, is say, 'We have this treasure, and the reason we're not doing very well at holding onto it, passing it on, making it visible, is that we need to remember it's not us.'

So, we get into that familiar pattern of Christian life and Christian identity – which is a two-fold giving away and pointing away. We point away—at every moment—to the treasure itself, the treasure lifted up for us, the treasure planted in the midst of our suffering earth, the treasure in which the radiance of God is to be seen: the cross of Jesus Christ. We point away, and away, and away, into that; and because that's what we do, we point away, and away, towards and into each other. As St Paul says, 'Death is at work in us and life in you' (2 Cor 4.12) – meaning by that, not that it's a terrible thing to be a preacher ('you have all the fun and we have all the difficulty') but surely that every one of us is conscious of the death we have to be living out so that the neighbour may live; knowing in the same moment that our life is lived from the death and the self-giving of our Christian neighbour. Pointing away, pointing to each other, and in that also receiving from each other, and trying again and again to make sense of that experience, and trying to explain to a rather baffled world that actually that is how Jesus gets seen – not in the smooth surface and the quiet purring of well-regulated institutions and respectable lives, but (as we were reminded last night in that wonderful little clip of the African American preacher) 'I can't describe Him'. Those are the moments when the treasure comes through. 'I can't describe Him' – I can't embody Him in my success, my radiance, my lordship, my fluency, my success. I can only say, 'That's the treasure, and it's not me.'

So, that's something to do with living in the light, being transparent to what is given to us and what is in our hearts – the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4.6), which is being planted in us.

How wonderful to have these two particular readings to reflect on at the end of Synod, because in them is so much of the mystery of God in Jesus Christ. Because it does matter, at the end of this quinquennium, to recognise that we have been the guardians of a treasure: that in the five years of our service and discussion and praying together, what we've been doing is holding onto a treasure, trying to let the light through. 'Treasurable' experiences in Synod are one thing (they're perhaps more frequent for some than for others!) but the point is not treasurable experiences but the treasure that makes us who we are, which has brought us together here, and which has (amazingly) made us believe it is worthwhile going on being with one another here: the treasure in our hands, the treasure we're always pointing away to, and the treasure we're always receiving at the hands of our neighbour, forgetting himself or herself and giving into our lives. I hope and pray that that has been some of the experience of Synod.

There will many other experiences – experiences of gratitude and satisfaction. Let's not be too apocalyptic about Synod or too cynical. There are the moments where we have felt, as is sometimes said at the end of a debate, 'that was Synod doing well', that was a moment where we felt something of light, something of warmth and welcome in one another, and felt confidently able to present that to our world. But also the moments that don't feel very treasurable, where we've had to face brick walls, misunder-standing, words lightly and hurtfully used, hurts given, hurts received, and the simple sense, which (Lord knows) has been around this weekend, that there are times when we feel we've been asked the impossible as a Synod. The treasure is somewhere in there, that we are held to the task because of the light and the love we are given.

Thanks be to God for those years of treasure-keeping. Thanks be to God for the awareness, in our failure and in our good moments of that which is simply given for our life and the life of the world. Thanks be to God for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and in the face of Jesus Christ's brothers and sisters around us in fellowship. Thanks be to God for the call that still lies ahead of us.

'We want to see Jesus', say the strangers, the outsiders, the ones knocking on the door or perhaps just vaguely interested. 'We'd be quite interested, we think, before we go back to the hotel.' And what do we have to say and show? Not a glib and smooth successful picture, not even a completed coherent system. What we have to say and show is, 'Believe it or not, there's treasure in our hands, there's treasure in our hearts, and if that's difficult to believe, why do you think we keep on trying to love each other? Because the treasure given to us tells us it's all worthwhile. It's the truth.' That and that alone, says the Lord, is what will draw all people to him.

So we pray as we finish this quinquennium, that people will have been drawn to the Lord Jesus in all that we've done, in the darkness, in the light, the good moments, the bad moments. We pray that all those who will be elected to the next Synod will have the same sense of being given a treasure, of being invited to trust the light, and so to renew day after day their commitment to one another in that task.

But, above all, we thank God for the treasure in our midst for which we can find no words: for the light we are invited to trust and walk in, and for which we can find no images except the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – 'Jesus Christ and him crucified' (1 Cor 2.2).

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 © Rowan Williams 2010

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