Eucharist – The General Synod
Tuesday 14th February 2017The Archbishop of York's sermon at the Holy Communion in the Assembly Hall at Church House Westminster London follows...
Feast of Constantine (Cyril) and his older brother Methodius – Apostles to Slavs – and with Benedict ‘Patrons of Europe’ and forerunners of an authentic ecumenism between the two great branches of Christendom: Constantinople and Rome. A Feast Day, also, of Valentine, a priest martyred at Rome in 269.
Isaiah 49: 1-6, 13-16
Romans 10: 11-15
Luke 9: 1-6
Prayer: “O God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, Let your light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of your glory, in the face of Jesus Christ’. (2 Corinthians 4: 6) Amen.
I thought, “I have laboured in vain,
I have spent my strength
for empty breath” (Isaiah 49: 4a).
Many a preacher, a teacher, a prophet have uttered such words with feeling and great disappointment. Crying out as it were, God’s loving invitation, into a concrete bucket. Isaiah says, I was frustrated when I saw that people ignored my preaching and prophecy, but God knows that I put my effort into it, and that the failure was not my fault. For Prophet Isaiah realises that his “case rested with the Lord and his recompense is in the hands of God” (Isaiah 49: 4b).
That homecoming-realisation makes the prophet Isaiah here in Chapter 49 to articulate the fundamental principles of the Hebrew Bible: our relationship with God and his with us is a mirror image of our relationships with one another, especially within the family. That is why the book of Genesis is about relationships between husbands and wives, singleness, friendship, parents and children, and siblings.
The Hebrew word for faith, emunah, really means faithfulness, fidelity: love as loyalty. For it is within the family that we learn what it is to care unconditionally for one another. The bond between husband and wife is a moral and spiritual one. The Hebrew word for marriage, kiddushin , comes from the word for holiness, kedushah. That is why the prophets, most notably Hosea, compare the relationship between God and his people to a marriage:
“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness, mercy, and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord” (Hosea 2: 21-22).
Marriage is a moral bond. But parenthood is a biological one. That is why, when the Hebrew Bible speaks of redemption, it speaks of God as the parent. God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh: ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn child, and I have told you, “Let my child go, that he may worship me.” Isaiah, uniquely, speaks of God as a mother: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66: 13). And here in Isaiah 49:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!”(Isaiah 49: 15).
Isaiah is here spelling out a feature of the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for womb, rechem, is the source of the word for compassion, rachamim – the belly where there is deep feeling. So the Hebrew language in Exodus 34: 6-7a and Psalm 25: 10 uses words normally associated with “a mother’s womb where the tiny baby is” (RĀCHAM, RĀCHAMIM, RĀCHŪM). And says of God, “A compassionate and gracious God abounding in steadfasting love, faithfulness and friendliness” (Exodus 34: 6-7a; Psalm 25: 10).
Parenthood is the matrix of the moral sense. Thus a society that consecrates the bonds of marriage, singleness, friendship, parents and children, and siblings, will be one capable of understanding the relationship between us and God. And one that doesn't, won’t.
Beloved in Christ, as family members of the body of Christ, prophet Isaiah encourages us to renew our relationship with God and he with us, for it is a mirror image of our relationship with one another, especially within the family of the Church. When we hold up that mirror image how do we measure up? Are our relationships with each other like God’s relationship with each one of us; and corporately as a part of the Body of Christ?
May the Holy Spirit renew our faith, emunah, by increasing our faithfulness, fidelity and thereby transform our love into loyalty and holiness – kedushah.
May God our Father give us his abundant love that redeems us and cares for us as the parent, a mother, so that we too will have his compassion, rachamim, for each other and his world. As this Feast Day of St Valentine invites us to mark and acknowledge the all loving God who blesses those who love one another, as Jesus implored his own disciples so to do, may we so love one another and be blessed by our all loving God in equal measure.
The Risen and Ascended Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, says to each one of us and together as a part of his Body the Church – Yes! Even this General Synod!:
“See! See! I have engraved you
On the palms of My hands,
Your walls are ever before Me.
I never could forget or forsake you” (Isaiah 49: 16, 18b).
With the eyes of faith, hope and love, please See! Behold! Wherever the Lord stretches out his hands to bless others – hands that bear the marks of his crucifixion as well as his engraving of you therein, you are not forgotten or forsaken. You are there, blessing others with the Lord. He has engraved you, on the palms of his hands that bear the marks of his crucifixion. And everything about you as a redeemed child of God is ever before him.
The totality of who you are is in his hands. Nestle in his warm embrace as the two hands of God – the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ lead you into our Father’s presence. Amen.
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