Sermon at the First Mass of Mother Caroline Rhodes, Feast of S. Thomas the Apostle, 2011

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

  • Greetings on this Feast Day of St Thomas the Apostle
    • From St Thomas the Apostle Elson, your brother & sisters in Christ
    • Small urban parish in Diocese of Portsmouth on the South Coast
    • An Inclusive Church with a Sacramental, Eucharistic focus
    • Missional
      • esp in work with young people, families, schools
      • notorious for its unique sacramental fresh expression called Blesséd
        • something almost unique in the Church of England
        • Missional, radical
        • a reputation for quality multimedia worship, challenging the norm and inadvertently setting fire to church carpets (and occasionally the priest!)
        • One day I was called by someone from theological college who, inspired by encountering the noise created by Blesséd at Greenbelt asked if she could come and do a Summer placement
          • Keen to sample all that Missional Anglocatholicism had to offer
          • to work with the young, the old, the disaffected and the challenged that make up our Parish and our Fresh Expression
          • to create and innovate and do playful things in the worship of Almighty God
          • We in the parish could tell that she would be an excellent priest, and a great judge of character after even just a short period of time, as she gave me a bottle of the ludicrously expensive Hendrick’s Gin after her placement. What a good judge of character! She will always be welcomed back in Elson!
          • She has remained an active member of the Blesséd Community, contributing liturgy, wise counsel and good humour in person at Greenbelt (where she Deaconed the Mass last year) and over the interweb.
          • I am of course, speaking of Caroline
          • That Ordinand is the newly ordained priest at whose hands Christ will be made present here today
          • And that is a special thing
            • a mysterious thing
            • a profound thing
            • We are all indeed privileged to be a part of Mother Caroline’s first Mass
              • a fine old English word found in the 1549 Prayer Book no less, so let us call it what it is.
              • It does not matter whether your Church Tradition believes this or that about Priesthood in the Church of England
              • It does not matter if you believe X or Y about what happens at the Eucharist
                • because from the very heart of Anglicanism comes the understanding that something special and significant happens when the people of God gather and bread is broken and wine in poured out
                • when Christ is present amongst us
                • when we come into Communion with God and with each other
                • and the ordinary things of this world, bread and wine and you and me are transformed into the body and blood of Christ and the people of God
                • and it happens at the hands of a priest
                • today a newly ordained priest in the Church of God
                • and Christ is revealed, hiding as St Francis of Assisi so famously said, hiding under an ordinary piece of bread
                • And that is why you must treasure your priests: Mother Caroline, Mother Chris
                • Because you and the Lord are calling them to be set apart to undertake a task so significant
                  • so momentous
                  • so life-transforming
                  • that the rest of the world hardly notices
                  • and yet yearns for it.
                  • God calls men and women apart to undertake three distinct roles
                    • The Bishop recalled them to us in his charge at Caroline’s ordination last night
                    • They are specific to a priest and distinct signs of God’s work in the world
                    • They are
                      • To Pronounce God’s Forgiveness in the absolution
                      • To Proclaim God’s Blessing upon his people
                      • To Make Christ Present in the Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist
                      • When a priest Pronounces God’s Forgiveness
                        • Whether that is in Corporate Worship or in Private acts of Sacramental Recnciliation
                        • The priest is an agent of God’s forgiveness of the world
                        • They seek to articulate for a broken world the reaching out of God to his people
                        • To make visible his love
                        • To proclaim the power of God over sin and death and the possibility of renewal through a lfe lived in God
                        • To reconcile us the people with God as the priest acts as conduit and shining example of love in action
                        • What the world needs more than ever is a proclamation of forgiveness
                        • What the world needs more than ever is a demonstration of the power of reconciliation
                        • and this happens at the hands of your priest
                        • When a priest Proclaims God’s Blessing
                          • once again it is as an agent of God’s grace.
                          • It is not their blessing, but God’s
                          • They are an earthly extension of God’s action in this world.
                          • Throughout Scripture Blessing is seen as important manefestations of the work of God
                            • and there are simply not enough blessings given in this day and age
                            • The broken world can be reunited by a response to God’s love
                            • broken people are transformed by the promise, hope and release of God’s blessing
                            • society is  renewed, change is initiated.
                              • If you have the opportunity, today of all days, and after this Mass, seek out a personal blessing from Mother Caroline
                                • It is a vindication of her new role
                                • It is a gift from God
                                • Who amongst us would want to eschew that?
                                • A priest’s primary calling however is to stand before you as an ikon of Christ at this altar and so to Make Christ Present in the Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist
                                • It is a mystery so profound
                                • A sacrament so significant
                                • The heart of Anglicanism
                                • The lifeblood of the world wide church
                                • as Christ is revealed to us on this very altar in broken bread, in wine outpoured
                                  • Dom Gregory Dix, an Anglican Monk, many years ago wrote so vividly of the universality of this act:
                                • Was ever another command so obeyed?
                                • For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
                                • Men have found no better thing than this to do
                                • for kings at their crowning
                                • and for criminals going to the scaffold;
                                • for armies in triumph
                                • or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
                                • for the proclamation of a dogma
                                • or for a good crop of wheat;
                                • for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation
                                • or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
                                • for a schoolboy sitting an examination
                                • or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
                                • for the famine of whole provinces
                                • or for the soul of a dead lover;
                                • in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia;
                                • for a village headman much tempted to return to [paganism because the yams had failed;
                                • because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
                                • for the repentance of [a soul;
                                • for the settlement of a strike;
                                • for a son for a barren woman;
                                • for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war;
                                • while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;
                                • on the beach at Dunkirk;
                                • while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church;
                                • tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
                                • furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
                                • gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc
  • one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
  • And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom,
  • the priests have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.
  • This, Mother is the heart of the Eucharistic Celebration which we witness this, and each and every Sunday
  • This is the very heart of your ministry – the transformation of the ordinary people of God through the transformation of the Lord’s Supper.
  • This Mother Caroline, Mother Chris and I tell myself here and now is what we are about.
  • In this world, which cries out for the work of God, can there be three more important tasks?
  • For each of these tasks are a proclamation of the Gospel of Love, a call to transformation, a demonstration of the of God in the world
  • These special, set apart acts show
    • That God’s forgiveness is make clear
    • That’s God’s blessings are present even in times of great tribulation
    • That God’s love is poured out upon us all
    • All other functions of ministry
      • from the interminable paperwork (you can tell I am an Incumbent!)
      • to the sitting on a PCC subcommittee
      • are a shallow reflection of these three key tasks
      • Through them, you, Mother Caroline are called by the people of this parish, the pilgrim people of God to make Christ known to the world
      • Each of these tasks make up the essential mission of the Church
      • They are a part of the mission of the whole people of God which you, Mother, your training incumbent, Mother Chris, and you, the good people of this place should take great heed of:
      • In the words of a powerful ordination charge:
        • “We have not ordained you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.
        • We have not ordained you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.
        • We have not ordained you to become involved in social issues, in ecology, race, politics, and the search for justice and peace; for that is laid on every Christian.
        • We have ordained you to something smaller and less spectacular;
          • to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today;
          • to remember and practice those rituals of meaning that address people at the level where change takes place;
          • to foster in community, through word and sacrament, that encounter with truth which will set people free to minister as the Body of Christ.
  • We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care.
  • To proclaim God’s forgiveness
  • To pronounce God’s blessings
  • To make Him known in the breaking of the bread
  • Mother Caroline, may God grant you grace not to betray these mysteries but uphold them, not to deny but to affirm these things, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Amen