The internet cut out before Fr Tony started – we’re sorry to those who missed it, but here it is.
Festival Day Community of the Resurrection
“Here am I, send me”. These words of the prophet Isaiah are echoed in our gospel by the admonition to acknowledge Jesus before others as a true disciple is called to do.
Both the calling of Isaiah and the calling of the disciple to give witness to their master reminds us that the vocation of each Christian is to be a person who listens at the feet of the master and proclaims what they have come to know of Jesus. This sitting at the feet of the master is typical of the ancient near East pedagogy and of many ancient cultures that privilege ‘wisdom of’ rather than simply ‘knowledge about’ as the paradigm of true understanding. In this way, the student imbibes from the teacher the message to be learned in their apprenticeship to the master.
In celebrating today the life and mission of the CR, the word ‘apprenticeship’ seems the appropriate one to use. Learning to live with one another in community is always a project. It is never an accomplished task, as the ‘bicycle that one is attempting to ride’, to borrow an early metaphor from Charles Gore at Pusey House in 1892, requires motion for stability. The changing nature of the world and the changeless truth of the gospel require coupling so that the cross, as motto of the Carthusians puts it, may articulate both aspects of reality, change and stability.
The change spoken of in our reading from Isaiah is that of kingship, from Uzziah to Jotham, his son. But, whilst Uzziah’s reign is often associated with a reign of sin and infidelity it was also a period of stability and material prosperity, and its coming to an end will inaugurate the dawn of the Assyrian threat to the people of Israel.
Working at the College of the Resurrection these last years, I have certainly found the project nature of community to be true for myself. Each year as new ordinands come, I remind them that they are not coming to the College of the Resurrection, they are the College, the project which is always a task to be accomplished together each year and which makes the College never the same from year to year. So, whilst the daily patterns may repeat, the liturgical cycle reminds us each year of the changing nature of the seasons of our lives as both individuals and as community.
This communal call to listening at the feet of the master is something that we do with one another, and it is this which is at the heart of what we are celebrating today. The fact that together something has been achieved in this place which is born of Christian discipleship. A discipleship of daily learning from the Lord of what it is to be a follower in the company of other disciples. It is this call of the Lord that we are remembering today. A day to remember and to rejoice in the fact that we have been called as companions on the journey of discipleship of the Lord and this is the source of our joy, because to be called to do this is to be chosen to share in nothing less than the building of the kingdom of God, here in this place.
Yet, as with the prophet Isaiah, this call begins with a realization that we are not worthy of it. The burning coal carried by the seraph to cleanse the lips of the prophet is a symbol of this fact and this symbolic representation was often seen in patristic times as a sign of the Eucharist which cleanses our lips so that we can go out to proclaim the gospel; ‘go the mass is ended’, as it is phrased in the Latin rite ite missa est. The cauterization of the lips and mouth of Isaiah is a necessary first step enabling Isaiah to respond to his call as a prophet. And, just as the Eucharist enables us to preach the Word, the Word spoken by Jesus to his disciples in the dark enables the disciples to communicate it in the light, to transform the whisper into a loud proclamation from the housetops.
This combination of word and sacrament embodied in a liturgical praxis of life enacts the grammar of a Christian community powerfully communicated to us here in this beautiful space of the remodeled church. The very stones and pillars of this building cry out as if from the rooftops that Jesus is risen.
The architecture of this proclamation, which this church represents, is a materialization of the witness of the Community of the Resurrection to make public the fruits of the Resurrection. It is, if you will, a kind of mappa mundi (a map of the world) in which the liturgical geometry carves out a theatre for the performance of the revelation which takes place in this place. The revelation of the word, which is recited in the liturgical hours during the monastic choir, echoes Isaiah’s Trisagion, the threefold Sanctus sung in the heavenly court by the seraphs and angels. This song of the Holy, Holy, Holy, gives witness to the Trinitarian basis of all Christian liturgy and proclamation through Christ, in the Spirit, to the Father.
And, it is this liturgical action which creates a new type of community. A community oriented to the praise, reverence, and service of God and neighbour. That is why, no doubt, at the origins of the Community of the Resurrection both liturgical celebration and social transformation were woven together in a seamless, but inevitably tensile charism, which has been so fruitful for the church both in this country and indeed around the world, through the CR missions to Southern Africa and the Caribbean. It is therefore, a challenge to us posed by our readings today, to envisage afresh this generative charism of liturgical and societal community for our times. And, in taking up this challenge, we continue the work of Charles Gore and Walter Frere of building the Community of the Resurrection in a world which is at risk of losing sight of the resurrection in the face of the increasingly dominant communities of death which are occluding our vision of the kingdom of God.
Pointing towards the real eschatological future of the world beyond the outmoded shibboleths of the apocalyptics of death and destruction is what the witness of the Community of the Resurrection manifests in the lives of the brothers lived in common.
Easter in Ordinary, in the humble, often humdrum tasks of, as it were, ‘riding a bicycle’ in a community in West Yorkshire. And, after 130 years of learning to ride that bicycle, it is only fitting that we celebrate it this festival day. Amen.