Friday, March 22, 2013

Archbishop Justin's Enthronement Sermon

Regular readers will know I am very fond of Canterbury Cathedral and that I have been there several times for retreats and pilgrimage. One of the neat things about watching the new Archbishop of Canterbury's "Enthronement" was seeing some faces in the background that I know from my time there. The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, of course, but also some of the vergers with their cassocks and cool ear-bud-radio setups. The best video I've been able to find that is streamable is this one:

It includes his short sermon, which I thought was quite nice. He talks about how God's Grace liberates our courage to get out of the boat and attempt to walk on the waves. There is a lot of talk like that in Christian circles on both sides of the pond. The rest of the ceremony was a beautiful example of English Cathedral Worship at its best, and it makes me long for it. I could swear I could feel the coolness of those stones (and oh, if they could talk!). So much beauty and gravitas, and yet it was all so human. Sigh.

But I couldn't help but have my impressions of the moment tempered by the gut-wrenching posts of the MadPriest blogger (Reverend Jonathan Hagger):

I was ordained nearly eighteen years ago. In all that time I have broken no canon laws and I have not been subject to any disciplinary proceedings. I have not even broken those laws that morally perhaps I should break. All I want is permission to officiate. I cannot understand how the church authorities can get away with punishing me without there being a crime or any due process. I am in pain. My wife is in pain. My marriage is in pain because of all the pain. To stop this pain I need one man to sign a piece of paper giving me permission to officiate. After that I can begin, with the help of women, to return to my vocation in life. I simply do not understand why this cannot happen in a blink of an eye and the frustrating ridiculousness of it all is driving me mad. This is just theatre. They are going to open the door for him whatever because his face fits. All his life doors have been opened for him. I asked him to open a door for me and he said he "no".(Source)

And there you have it--the double nature of the church as both blessed and broken. And for every inspiring bishop who rises to the "throne" you find scattered about plenty of broken and scarred people who did their best. I'm not saying anything negative about Archbishop Justin or about whether or not Jonathan is right to be so hurt by him. I know very, very little about that particular situation. Understanding the details wouldn't change the fact, however, that Jonathan is in pain. He was called to serve God, got ordained, and now feels abandoned by the institutional church. And when I hear a story like that I take it as a solemn warning that the same thing could very well happen to me in the blink of the eye. Read the Psalms if you don't believe me.

So this business about "stepping out onto the waves" gets real right quick when your job or something else you love is on the line. And I think that we need to stare death in the face if we are going to swing our legs over the gunwale. For every majestic enthronement I think we need to listen to at least one story like Jonathan's to keep us honest about what we are about when we follow Christ. We are about dying in order to live. We are supposed to pick up our cross daily and follow Him, and that entails stumbling, often.

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